Project management and the importance of diversity and inclusion
Great news! I’ve been shortlisted for an award by Race for Opportunity in their Champions category, for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
The Positively Ethnic Network (PEN for short), an employee-driven, business resource group I helped to establish within my company, has also been shortlisted for an award in a separate category.
I must confess though when I first heard the news I didn’t immediately see this as a cause for celebration and instead spent much of my time reflecting on the question:
Should a project management professional like me be concerned with diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
For me the short answer to this question is “yes, of course”. However it took me some time to realise that despite making a conscious decision to focus on my career in project management, rather than taking an active involvement with PEN, my commitment to diversity and inclusion has always been there and still remains a part of everything I do today in my professional career.
I would go even further to suggest that diversity and inclusion should be at the core of what we all do in our project management careers and in this article I’d like to explain why that’s the case and how I’ve applied that principle in three specific areas of project management activity.
Let me first share with you the objectives of PEN in order to make my case.
The purpose of PEN is to improve the company’s competitiveness by promoting the representation, advancement and inclusion of its ethnic minority employees. In other words, recruit capable people into the workforce, then support the ongoing development of their skills whilst at the same time tackling those barriers within the company that may otherwise exclude them from meaningful career progression.
PEN achieves these aims by focussing on three core strategic areas which also happen to be central themes related to project management activity:
- Professional Development.
- Cultural Awareness.
I would argue that we in the project management profession all need to be conscious of the importance of carrying out these activities with diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our minds.
In project management we may find ourselves recruiting for our own project teams or perhaps for others on behalf of the wider organisation. When creating job descriptions, reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, we should be aware of the ways in which we can either include or exclude exceptional talent from the recruitment pipeline. Asking for experienced candidates for example, may be denying your team the benefit of more youthful but equally capable individuals. Making the assumption from a CV that a candidate with a non-English sounding surname does not speak English fluently may prove to be entirely untrue.
In an interview I conducted many years ago within the financial sector, I was presented with a candidate whose devotion to the Islamic faith meant he could not work on trading systems designed to generate profit. However he was by far the most capable candidate I had interviewed and so I hired him and was pleased to find it was more than possible to get the best out of him, whilst meeting both his needs and the needs of the role.
2. Professional Development
Developing the skills of others is a vital part of team leadership in project management. When formulating training plans, we should by all means consider training for technical skills that support project delivery, but we should also be mindful of those skills that promote diversity within the team. Providing for soft skills such as influencing others, behaving assertively or building confidence for example, will foster creativity within your team and may prove to be of great value at times when you need to overcome unforeseen roadblocks.
On one occasion at the end of a meeting, I asked each person within my team to simply listen without speaking as everyone else around the table took turns in saying only positive things that we genuinely appreciated about them. It was a one-off exercise and certainly out of our comfort zone, but the feedback was that it worked. The team left the meeting feeling more confident, full of energy and highly motivated to succeed.
3. Cultural Awareness
Understanding the culture of the team and the wider organisation in which they operate is an important part of project management when deciding how and when to get things done. When for example directing team members to complete a task we have planned for, we will need to understand whether they will be required to work within a culture of lengthy and arcane procedures before deciding if that task can be completed urgently. Retaining the culture of the team and its individuals because of the benefit it brings to the project means that we may need to influence for change outside of the team instead adapting it to the external environment.
On occasions when I’ve worked with offshore vendors from India I’ve ensured others are fully aware of significant cultural and religious periods of the year, such as Diwali, Vaisakhi and Ramadan that may affect their availability. In this way I was able to set reasonable expectations among others at these important times of the year and as a result, create a more welcoming and inclusive working environment for my team.
I’d be interested in receiving all comments about this article and hearing your own experiences of diversity and inclusion whether they are within the project management profession or elsewhere.