Women in project management – Interview with Teri Okoro

glass breakers Teri OkoroI’m Teri Okoro - Chair of APM’s Women in Project Management SIG, founder and director of a construction design and project/programme consultancy, member of the construction industry council diversity panel, non-executive director, speaker and commentator on gender and diversity matters.

How WIPM came about

The idea for WIPM was proposed by Jean Bilsborough, an APM member who wished to create a forum for women to develop their skills and network. There was awareness at the time that there were no clear initiatives for ‘encouraging, developing and introducing more women into project management’. The well attended inaugural meeting was held in 1993 and the group has been in existence ever since. Its initial mission statement was broad – to develop the role of women in project management and the develop project management through the role of women by education, research, networking and dissemination. The founding team were confident that ‘forward looking’ organisations would view ‘wealth of untapped potential in the female workforce’ and that work culture was moving away from ‘command and control’ to greater emphasis on teamwork which suited female attributes.

What WIPM does – activities and ongoing projects including regional

The context within which WIPM operates today is not hugely dissimilar from when it was founded. We however revisited our strategy at the end of last year in advance of our 21st anniversary and our mission now focuses on four main strands. Firstly, raising our profile - which has been greatly enhanced in this anniversary year through a reinvigorated communications team. We wish to be active members of the project management community and represent the voice of women. We plan to profile P3 managers at different levels and from different sectors on our website.

Secondly, promoting a no barriers future and encouraging all project managers to succeed in their careers by providing resources and expertise. We recently ran a webinar to highlight the FAPM (Fellow) and RPP (Registered project profession) category of membership which has low levels of representation for women and will run a pilot support group for those applying later this year. Thirdly - engaging and responding to project professionals, it is only by listening that we can tailor our work and initiatives. Feedback is received directly by our bi-annual survey, surveys after events, at events, during ongoing engagement and communication, via email, also through social media.

Fourthly and not the least, we aim to build a collaborative community and grow dynamic networks and links with like-minded organisations. It is important that good practice is shared and efforts are not duplicated. We appreciate the time our members and committee give and wish to use it effectively. One likeminded organization we have recently been in contact with can link up women project personnel when they are travelling and away from home.

WIPM organizes regular personal development and networking events, webinars and joint events (as the one day workshop with the University of Oxford Institute of Gender Studies, Lady Margaret Hall) also biannual conferences. We are planning a video for schools and universities to encourage more girls and greater diversity in our profession. It is intended that additional videos aimed at project professionals follow.

An initiative we are actively supporting this anniversary year is the Inspire the Future campaign. Encouraging more project professionals and women particularly to register to volunteer one day a year to attend a local school to talk about P3M as a career

During my term as Chair, I have endeavoured to strengthen our regional links. This year we have anniversary branded events arranged across the UK from South West to South East, North East and Scotland with topics ranging from career progression, change and diversity, to the Glasgow games, its legacy and how diversity was managed. We are particularly pleased to have our launch event in Glasgow during this special anniversary year.

Our anniversary event - 2014 National Conference & 21st Anniversary

Our main anniversary event to celebrate our coming of age will be in London on 25th September 2014. I am hugely excited by the exceptional lineup of speakers that the organizing committee has arranged linked to the theme of ‘Looking to the Future’. It will run over an afternoon and evening, and is a brilliant opportunity for career development during the afternoon sessions and networking during the evening celebration. Our first keynote speaker Baroness Susan Greenfield heads a multidisciplinary group undertaking research linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson. An acclaimed neuroscientist, writer, broadcaster and a senior research Fellow at Lincoln College Oxford, she also co-founded a biotech company developing a novel approach to neuro degenerative disorders. Offered honorary fellowship for the Institute of Risk Management in 2012, she is included in Debretts’s 500 of ‘inspiring and influential’ people.

Second keynote speaker, Dame Stephanie Shirley is a successful IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist and workplace revolutionary. Her business pioneered work practices in 1962 that changed the position of professional women and went on to be a global success. All this while raising her autistic only son.

Breakout session presenters for the ‘Developing your Career’ stream are Manon Bradley and Dr Jacqui Drake. Manon is Development Director for the Major Projects Association and has seen little change in the proportion of women involved in Major projects during her decade in post. Jacqui is Director of cool-leadership.com and a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School. She founded and has led the Praxis Centre dedicated to the professional development of managers. Also visiting fellow of Business schools in Europe, she consults for organisations, delivers training, facilitates, mentors, coaches and is living proof that careers keep evolving.

The Listening, Learning, Leading stream will be led by Susan Heaton-wright, Dyan Foss and Valerie Mitchell. Susan is creative and managing Director of Viva Live music and voice coach with Executive Voice. She trains individuals and teams to be more effective communicators with their voice and bodies specializing in coaching men and women to be visible, find their own voice and be heard, noticed and understood in the business world.

During the evening Vanessa Vallely a recognized expert on person to person and recognized as the most networked person in the City will present her proven tips on networking. She founded to networking site www.wearethecity.com and the network of networks (TNON) which includes women’s networks from the 70 FTSE forms. Her extensive professional career spans IT, Finance and Banking. The Funny Women Players will entertain us with improvisation comedy exchanging dry corporate jargon for a comedy journey of being a woman in the world of project management using anecdotes from the audience.

Some findings our recent survey

WIPM conducted its second survey of P3 managers this year. It differed from the first in that we asked more in depth questions about the issues faced. 92% of respondents were women and the findings thus reflect largely the views of women in our profession. The majority worked in the private sector, over half were project managers, nearly a quarter in project support role and about a fifth were programme managers. A third had 10 – 15+ years experience with the majority having 5 – 10 years experience.

The four main challenges that those surveyed faced in their careers are career progress (nearly two thirds), work-life balance, personal development and support from managers.

Career progression is a sector wide issue and reflects recent surveys carried out in the States (Henderson 2012) which highlighted stalled careers and the UK (Dent 2013), as well as anecdotal evidence.

The assistance that respondents required from WIPM to meet challenges include sharing good practice, raising profiles, networking opportunities (workday evenings) and Webinars. Events they are interested to attend include those on Interpersonal skills (as communication and leadership), Mentoring and Career Development, Risk Management and Soft Skills.

Many had not previously attended a WIPM event so there is more we can do to reach out to these women – increase publicity, review locations and timing of events for those not too busy to attend.

The survey is a snapshot that informs our future event planning. Our Anniversary event will address some of these issues. Additionally at the APM PM in Practice event in October WIPM will be running a session focusing on career progression.

Some words of advice

Women as their male colleagues in the workforce have to be aware that they need to take control of their career progression, actively plan and work towards their own goal. Much survey data indicates that many women have entered project management by default, having not planned it but excel nevertheless. Whilst focusing on current challenges and associated work satisfaction is great, planning for the next level is critical. There should be awareness also that what gets you to this current point will not necessarily take you to the next level. The next level is likely to differ from one individual to another. Sharing your success and aspirations is not vanity, it puts you in contention for future opportunities. A mentor or sponsor is also beneficial at all levels.

Joining the discussion, getting in touch and attending the anniversary event

You can join the discussion by following us on twitter @apmwipmsig, emailing , booking to attend the anniversary event or joining our group. WIPM would also like to form links with likeminded organisations.

Teri Okoro is Chair of APM’s Women in Project Management SIG, originally trained as an architect she is a qualified project manager and founding director of TOCA a construction design and project/programme consultancy. She is also a member of the Construction Industry Council diversity panel, non-executive director, speaker and commentator on gender and diversity matters. She is also reviewing the diversity policy of the APM. You can connect with Teri on Linkedin or Google+ and also follow her on Twitter.

More in the series

Click here to read Women in project management – Interview with the founder of The Glass Breakers women’s network

Click here to read Women in project management – from a recruitment perspective

Click here to read Women in project management – Role models, perceptions & career progression

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