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  • Overcoming a myriad of challenges as a woman in IT Project ManagementAruni Siriwardene – Senior Project Manager, Navantis IT (Pvt.) Ltd
  • Contents 1. Abstract ......................................................................................................................................... 4 2. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 4 2.1 Gender care Vs Equal rights .................................................................................................. 5 2.2 Working women - In IT and out ............................................................................................. 5 2.3 Women in IT Project Management (IT PM) ......................................................................... 6 3. Examples/ Case Studies:............................................................................................................ 6 4. Methodology/process followed .................................................................................................. 7 5. Key challenges identified and how to overcome them ........................................................... 9 6. Lessons learnt ............................................................................................................................ 12 7. Conclusion .................................................................................................................................. 12 8. References .................................................................................................................................. 13 9. Author‟s Profile: .......................................................................................................................... 143 Page View slide
  • 1. AbstractFrom a South Asian cultural perspective, the challenges women face in executive positions isproportionate to the protective nature of men in our region. The protections we grow with, nurtured byour families tend to extend unknowingly to the workplace. Viewed as the gender requiring care,women are coerced into believing themselves incapable of senior level leadership despite having theadvantages of a sound mind, clear judgment, and the privileges of a solid education. This is due tothe cultural disciplines, corporate immaturities in the organizations they work or personal pressuressurrounding them i.e. family expectations.In a current global and local context, we have successful women leaders but what has been theirtypical journey? What have they had to compromise? What is the value proposition a woman bringsto the table as a senior level manager. What value additions can they make to sustain competitiveadvantage in their professions, in the geographical regions and in their personal lives?As an outsourcing hub, projects executed from an off-shore perspective are wrought with the typicalissues of communication gaps, time differences, cultural divides and security concerns. What is therole we can play in diminishing these challenges as: mentors; professionals; project managers and aswomen!This paper attempts to discuss the multitude of challenges women face as IT project managers in anoff-shore environment. What difference women can make for the profession by technical know-howand upholding the PMI standards and professional values; and empowering others to follow suit2. IntroductionChallenges come in various ways - challenges of work, of parenting, providing for the family,educating our youth, safe-guarding our nation and the list is endless. For a woman, these samechallenges are somehow accentuated due to several aspects of cultural innuendo, dominantindividuals and at times the passivity expected of women.Globally, working women face a consistent challenge of overcoming gender barriers; the sheernumbers that take the step of looking for work as opposed to staying home is proof of the existence ofsuch barriers. In weighing the odds, women find it better to simply allow the rat-race to forge withoutwanting to be a part of it. This implies that women may have a choice, but what factors is that choiceborne out of? If a woman decides to work, what are the multitudes of barriers to overcome?As a woman; especially as a working mother, the responsibility of the well-being of another humanweighs on one‟s shoulders. Is it right for working mothers to be asked that their work take priority andif it cannot then a choice be made? Similarly, if an employer hesitates to hire a woman by nature offact that her personal commitments might intervene in her ability to do the job properly, are theywrong? What are the balancing acts required in a workplace to sustain the competitive advantages anorganization may gain from working women? How often or willing are organizations in trying to findalternate methods to keep females employed? Clearly, if a woman cannot provide an advantage toan organization, what would compel someone to hire her?4 Page View slide
  • 2.1 Gender care Vs Equal rightsThe South Asian tradition, that males care for the females, has been passed down over generations -ideally every human must care about other humans. So it is inevitable for a male counterpart to feelslightly protective about the female, not based on the aspect of intellectual capability. It is importantthat this is not misconstrued as a form of harassment.The request for rights must be based on one‟s capabilities and skills and not merely because ofmisnomers that trend down from generations.2.2 Working women - In IT and outIn the field of Information Technology (IT), women have set the standards about the equality in thknowledge from as far back as the 19 century, with Ada Lovelace being recognized as the world‟sfirst computer programmer. Yet, despite the initial kickoff by Ada, the numbers of women who arewilling to pursue a career in IT have not risen as proportionately as early results would have hopedfor.A June 2011, study by Gallup World, indicates that worldwide, women are less likely to have full timejobs that are well paid. Figure 1 indicates that the largest gender differences in women having jobsare seen in the South Asian and Middle Eastern regions.Figure 1 – Employed Full Time for an Employer, by GenderResearch shows that countries are having a difficult time encouraging women to pursue a career intechnology. So it comes to a point whether it is more an equality issue as an issue of personal choicefor a woman. However, a study by the Women in technology forum on Women‟s careers in the5 Page
  • technology industry reveals that despite the number of years of work experience had; it is harder for awoman to reach a board level. There is no clearly defined gender bias; yet the glass ceiling persists!2.3 Women in IT Project Management (IT PM)A 2001 survey of US high school graduates, by the Arthur Anderson GROW (Growth and Retention ofWomen) project, showed that “girls are 5 times less likely to pursue technology-related studies incollege”. A similar study by NASSCOM in 2004 of the South Asian woman showed an increase innumbers due to the increase of jobs brought on by the proliferation of the off-shoring IT industry inSouth Asia.These numbers may not always be because of gender in-equality, but the fact that women imposecertain barriers on themselves. In a study on under-graduates, the number of girls venturing to studycomputing is largely hampered by the stereotyping of the IT industry. In the west, studying IT is seenas a „geek-factor‟ condemning one to a career in an isolated cubicle writing code. In the south, acareer in IT means a chance to vie for a higher paid job. There is also the added advantage of themultitude of smaller institutes available for short duration computer courses in computing that affordsschool leavers a chance at starting a job within a minimum time frame. A career in technology beinga choice is not always available in equal fashion the world over. Women could be coerced intofollowing a career path in a „female oriented‟ industry like teaching, nursing, child-care, retail, officeadministration. Of course, there is a segment of men who are also pursuing similar lines of careermore often in the present age. More often than not, careers and industries requiring a largerpercentage of people interaction, soft skills, empathy, care giving tend to become the lot of womenpursuing a working career.In a PM career, where people interaction, communication, organizational skills, leadership traits rankalmost as high as the process or domain knowledge required to excel in that field; what should be thetypical numbers of gender trends? Women in IT are already in short supply, but an article on the PMIwebsite indicates that women are leaving the industry behind. More and more women are movingtowards understanding the value of their careers in relation to the demands of being a woman and theresponsibilities that come with it – stereotypical or otherwise.3. Examples/ Case Studies:In South Asia, the majority of girls are brought up to believe that their male counter-parts are stronger,that they should provide for the females, are far more intelligent and various other conditioning. Evenas women go through school, college and enter the workforce, it is unspoken but evident that theolder brother or father figure will prevail. For the women who take the step forward, it doesn‟t have tostop at the older male counterpart; it works the other way and should extend to the older sister andmother figure too.Growing up as the youngest child in a family of two older brothers and an older sister, where bothparents worked, there was sufficient evidence to show that choices make a difference. A decade on ina career as a Senior PM in IT, those early influences and home rules govern the person I am today.6 Page
  • My father was a civil engineer who worked on a few notable projects in the country - a very intelligentman from whom I learnt that honesty and integrity cannot be compromised. He was a projectmanager in the construction industry when I was 12years old. My first glimpse into „projectmanagement‟; came along when I was taught how to manage my chores at home. I learnt how timeis of essence and quality even more so. I learnt that budgets are important because money is scarce.My mother worked as a personal secretary, she took to working because her father died in her youthand her family encouraged her to go out into the world. My father worked with absolute passion, heenjoyed what he did; a rare combination! He also worked to provide for the family. My mother‟s jobwas encouraged because she could contribute to the finances, no pressure existed that she stay athome, unless she wanted to and domestic help was a given then. Extended family members werealways available to look after us and daycares were unheard of. Of course, in hindsight, if extendedfamily were unavailable to care for the children, perhaps the outcome would be different.As I advance in my career, I have learnt that at each stage in our lives; our needs and wants changeand gives rise to the roots of challenges we face. Using Maslow‟s hierarchy of needs in this context,we start out a job because of a need (physiological); e.g. I need to provide for myself or help with thefamily finances; or a want (esteem), e.g. I want to start out on a career like my mother did.Irrespective of gender; the freedom of choice is what prevails in the journey of overcoming obstacles.4. Methodology/process followedUnderstanding one‟s freedom of choice can be strengthened when one is aware of one‟s value! Tosolve a problem, first understand the problem.The key challenges we face are attributed to the differing outlook about value that is shown betweenmen and women. This personal value scale is explain edusing a strategy model defined by Dr.Uditha Liyanage, called the Liyanage Value Pyramid.The use of this model in this context is to help women understand the differing stages we travel ascareer women; understand where you are now and where you want to be a few years on.7 Page
  • Actualizer Psychological Communicator Value “of me” Social Relational Member Experiential Experiencer Value “for me” User Functional Liyanage Value Pyramid Figure 2 – The Liyanage Value PyramidValue “for me” – By moving into a job as an IT PM, What is the value I will gain? Dr. Liyanagedescribes these as Functional – what it does for me – “It gives me a job, affords an opportunity to get a salary”. Experiential – what it does to me – moving into IT and/ project management increases myknowledge, makes me a better candidate for a higher paid job role.It is important to understand that no two people are alike; in knowledge, in temperament, in wisdom;an apples to apples comparison is not possible when comparing the capabilities of a man and awoman. It is situational to the job role.Value “of me” – As Dr. Liyanage states “What is the “symbol that signifies” the value of me.” Being aWoman IT PM, what is the value I can give to my company, my country and my family? Relational – what it does with me (how do others relate to me) and Social Value – what it saysabout me (the image portrayed)8 Page
  • Interacting with individuals of an accepted or select group of like-minded individuals i.e. ITprofessionals or Project Managers, one is stereotyped with the “capability” tag irrespective of gender.One‟s value is created, the need for „you‟ is stated and an organization may go that extra length toretain your services.Take this a notch higher; by achieving a world recognized project management certification, theimage is improved further. The value “of me” manifests itself in the way others perceive the value “ofyou”. Understand how to create that value in you. Psychological Value – what it says to me.By identifying my personal value, “I understand the sustainable benefits that I can provide to theworkforce”.Once you have overcome the base needs of getting a job, gaining experience, understanding whereyou fit in, the psychological impact of your journey reaches the power of choices. Choices make ourchallenges seem less a burden and more an experience.In a role as a woman IT PM; we have a larger role to play by becoming mentors to the youngergeneration. That becomes the psychological value of me.If the value „of me‟ is, by personal biases or unsubstantiated reasons, ignored; then a conflictingsituation arises. As a PM, a defining strength is to understand how to create win-win situations? As awoman PM, experience is the best teacher; and employing win-win strategies, the most effective wayto overcome challenging situations.5. Key challenges identified and how to overcome themThe challenges one will face are external (a battle of circumstances beyond one‟s control) andinternal (a battle of choices), from the glass ceiling to prioritizing your career over children and otherfactors. If one wants a career certain pressing challenges must be overcome.If mind-sets exist that women are wronged, negative perceptions will cloud our judgments. Womencould be wronged; but likewise, countries, religions, men and children are wronged too. From a working woman‟s perspective, it is an internal battle to understand what your valuepreferences and drive value in others for the benefits of the work at hand. A challenge can only besuccessfully and completely overcome by oneself -because a challenge is personal.Challenges (Internal) Questions to ask yourself / Overcoming the challenge Is IT the right choice for Do I like ITme? What segment of IT am I thinking of. Am I bothered about the „geek/ nerd‟ factor associated with IT Am I willing to give what it takes to be in the field of IT Will I make a good project Do I WANT to be a Project Manager?manager? What is a project manager and what constitutes a „good project manager‟?9 Page
  •  How do I achieve Work- Understand that life is a balancing act.home balance? Surround yourself with people who are willing to help. It will never be an ideal balance, be realistic. Children‟s upbringing and Understand that situations are never 100% risk-freewelfare in my absence? Rely on womanly instinct. Invest in a trusted individual for your children. Learn to give your children the benefit of complete honesty.How women IT project managers can overcome some of the common challenges faced:Challenges (External) Questions to ask yourself / Overcoming the challenge Glass ceiling effect. Is it evident in your organization? Does it affect you or other colleagues and to what extent?"The Glass Ceiling" refersto an invisible barrier that Realize this is a conflict management situation. Ruth Hester provideslimits the level to which a an:woman or another Aggressive approach:member of a Realize that you cannot be equal - you must be better than yourdemographic minority competition for promotions.can advance within the If you have a lot invested, stay and fight.hierarchy in anorganization” Realistic approach: Win- Win situation The best solutions are not all encompassing, but rather a targeted, address the problem at hand solution. Lack of recognition State your case and ask WHY you are not given the recognition you feel is yours. Lack of Support from Be the change you want to see and offer support to your colleaguescolleagues and peers and peers. First understand your colleagues and then expect understanding. ASK for support. Spell out what you need. Challenges that come If you are taking on responsibility, see it through to the end. Don‟twith the job (frequent expect someone else to step in.travel, late hours…) For working mothers, being „available‟ is something that needs mastering. With the advent of technology, global communication can be managed easily. Undesirable situations are not constant e.g. you will not always have late working hours. Manage the situation. “If you are going to sweep, give it all you have got”. When you are working or at home with family, give the situation all you have got. Time Management If you are to be successful in anything you do; an IT role (time to market is key); a PM role (mission critical projects); a mother (making10 Page
  • Challenges (External) Questions to ask yourself / Overcoming the challenge time for everything from teaching good manners to bed-time stories). Time is something you have to learn to manage and fast. You will never have time; learn how to „make’ time. Read “The Test of Time, a busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time is going” by Brigid Schulte. Find out how much free time you have? Perception issues – Perception is based on an individual‟s senses. More often than notthe need to prove barriers are imposed by oneself upon oneself, the „mind-blocks‟.yourself over your malecounterparts (experience) You will need to win the battle between what you present being competitively more sustainable or advantageous than your colleague. The best person will win! IF, a colleague is chosen because of gender. Then that problem must be addressed as explained in the „Glass Ceiling‟ challenge above. Deal with perception issues by understanding the situation. There is no Band-Aid fix to all perception problems. Your image, as an Just like you plan your IT projects; plan on what image you want toemployee, a manager, a portray.team player, a mentor, asister/ mother figure As a working woman, a working mother, a working mother in the IT field, a working mother in PM. Decide which hat fits when and where. The same way you would wear a thinking hat to help you do a task better and quicker, plan your daily round of hats depending on the tasks at hand. Dynamism of the IT In order to get better at your job, constantly updating yourself onindustry: keep up or keep upcoming trends is vital. In IT, the dynamism of technology requiresout! that you keep abreast of the different trends. This holds true for everyone, irrespective of gender. If time is a barrier; refer back to the challenge of Time management. Apart from figuring out HOW to overcome challenges, try to challenge the challenges you have! Insufficient The percentages of women in the IT PM field are less than theirProfessional women male counterparts. It is a fact!peers and colleagues So for the few women who ARE in the IT PM field; it is a conscious choice we made to be here today. We can‟t find a „role model‟ who may give us a 101 „quick tips. Deal with this by using your intellect and by a combination of people; reach out to a male counterpart and a female working woman in a different domain. Actively look for solutions Set yourself up to the challenge of becoming a mentor and role model to the many young women who you would like to see follow in your footsteps. This builds sustainable competitive advantage for women in IT PM.11 Page
  • Challenges (External) Questions to ask yourself / Overcoming the challenge Family pressures – Dealing with family pressures in a South Asian context is always aget married, have kids, task to reckon with. No amount of project pressures could possiblyIn-law pressure, match the stress this brings about.uncooperative spouse. Try to employ all of those soft skills, leadership skills, positive thinking qualities that you possess as a Woman IT PM; call upon all the lessons you have learnt in mission critical projects, the deadlines you have delivered and using a huge dose of positive confrontation techniques, meet the situation head –on! Every situation is unique; negotiation tactics have to be different. Keep in mind the end goal and be open to a win-win situation which might involve certain changes on your part.6. Lessons learnt1) Expect challenges - in life; in IT, in Project management; and in simply being human.2) Plan! Plan!! Plan!!! – and Plan for things not going according to plan3) Don‟t procrastinate – manage your time.4) Understand your role and what you must give – strive to always give more5) Technology trends and PM methodologies - keep abreast of the changes6) Find 30hours every week for leisure time. You owe it to yourself.7) Learn the 7 habits to become highly effective (as a person, as a family, as a manager)8) How common is common-sense? As a manager teach people, not things!9) Work to accomplish the goal at hand. As a manager in a project, it is the best interests of the project that should drive your actions!10) Have a mentor or a best friend, someone with whom you can be nobody!7. ConclusionA challenge is an opportunity to better ourselves. Being a woman in IT PM, expecting challenges andunderstanding their roots are key factors to learning how to deal with them. There are no „Band-Aid‟fixes, and being a woman doesn‟t automatically entitle you to „first-aid‟.Women in IT PM face challenges in several ways from gender biases to technology limitations tojuggling time between family and work - the South Asian woman has the added challenge of pleasingthe large relative pools.How best women can pursue an IT PM career whilst still maintaining a strong sense of balance inother equally important aspects of life are by understanding that you are not alone. A positive outlookis demanded. Eradicating personal mind-blocks must be learnt; finding free time in the 24hour clockis vital. Learning to use available resources by way of processes and tools in the PM profession and thlistening to the 6 senses are vital.A recent survey by HBR striving to quantify if women are better leaders than men have put data out toresearch the leadership qualities inherent in each gender. The figures speak volumes, allowing forvarying interpretations and perceptions. Yet, one comment by a viewer has stated a resounding factthat irrespective of colour, caste, creed or gender, a person who leads by example is a true leader.12 Page
  • For corporate maturity, the step to leap from being good to great, organizations must understand thevalue of their workforce; hire the better person for the job.A woman desirous of handling a full time career while juggling a family and being a leader and a rolemodel in every theoretically taught meaning of the word is a woman with a goal in life.8. References[1] Adya, Monica P., “Women at work: Differences in IT Career experiences and perceptions betweenSouth Asian and American Women.” Human Resource Management, © 2008 Wiley Periodicals Inc.,pp. 602-604.www.shrm.org/education/hreducation/documents/47-3%20ayda.pdf[2] AjahnBrahm, “Give it everything you have got”,http://www.thelinguist.com/en/en/library/item/62869/[3] Chapman Alan, “Maslow‟s Hierarchy of Needs”, 2001-2004,http://www.businessballs.com/maslow.htm[4] Covey, Stephen R., “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Franklin Covey Co., 1989, pp. 104-146[5] Covey, Stephen R., “The 7 habits of highly effective families”, Franklin Covey Co., 1997, pp. 169 -236[6] DavenHiskey, “In 1842, Ada Lovelace wrote the world‟s first computer program”, February 2011http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/02/in-1842-ada-lovelace-wrote-the-worlds-first-computer-program/[7] Hester, Ruth. , “ The Glass ceiling and its effect on Women and minorities”, Yahoo! ContributorNetwork., May, 2007http://voices.yahoo.com/the-glass-ceiling-its-effect-women-minorities-349920.html?cat=3[8] Liyanage, Uditha., “Differentiation: The Quintessence of Strategy”, Sri Lankan Journal ofManagement, Postgraduate Institute of Management, Colombo, July – December 2008[9] Marlar, Jenny, “World Women less likely to have good jobs”, Gallup World, June, 2011http://www.gallup.com/poll/148175/world-women-less-likely-good-jobs.aspx[10] Melymuka, Kathleen., “If Girls don‟t get IT, IT won‟t get Girls”, Computerworld, January 2001.http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/55910/If_Girls_Don_t_Get_IT_IT_Won_t_Get_Girls_?taxonomyId=57&pageNumber=1[11] PMI.org., “Battling sexism in IT Project Management”, PMI.org, November, 2010http://www.pmi.org/en/Professional-Development/Career-Central/Battling-Sexism-in-IT-Project-Management.aspx[12] Schulte, Brigid., “The Test of Time: A busy working mother tries to figure out where all her time isgoing”, The Washington Post, © 2010 The Washington Post Company., January, 2010http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/11/AR2010011101999.html?sid=ST201001130418913 Page
  • [13] Wikipedia, “Women in computing” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_computing[14] Wolfe, Lahle., “Gender discrimination against women: From cradle to CEO”, About.com website,http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/challengeswomenface/a/genderdiscrim.htm[15] Women in Technology, “Women‟s Careers in the technology industry 2011 Report”, 2011http://www.womenintechnology.co.uk/File.aspx?path=ROOT/Documents/Women%27s_Careers_in_the_Technology_Industry_2011_Report.pdf[16] Zenger J., Folkman J., “Are Women better leaders than Men?”, Harvard Business Review, BlogNetwork, March, 2012.http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/03/a_study_in_leadership_women_do.html9. Author’s Profile: Aruni Siriwardene, a senior IT project manager by profession, a trainer and a planner in spirit. She is a working woman and a mother of three; she is a Rotarian and an avid social worker. She successfully manages her family in harmony with her office work, training programs, and social service commitments. Her mission in life is to assist individuals to step outside of their virtualized boundaries, to discover the limitless potential within them Mail Id: arunif@navantis.com; arunisiriwardene@gmail.com14 Page