“Anything you can do, I can do better.” While the lyrics to the beloved tune from the Broadway classic “Annie, Get Your Gun” might be a classic ode to male-female competition, thanks to a few recent controversial reports, they have become somewhat of a rallying cry for women working in project management. Despite being in the minority in terms actually holding corporate managerial positions, a 2007 study indicated that on average, women were significantly more successful when it came to keeping projects on budget, meeting deadlines, and not abandoning projects.
In response, a number of project management experts weighed in on why women might be more successful in a project management role, highlighting factors like communication skills, the ability to multitask, and risk aversion, which tend to be more typically associated with female managers.
But is it true?
Are women really better project managers than men? There are certainly plenty of men who disagree — and point to the fact that many projects have been successfully completed by men, on-time and on-budget. This also begs the question of whether the evidence of women’s success in project management is less of an indictment of men’s abilities in this area, and more of a rallying cry for women to earn an MPP online and for companies to hire more women to fill project management roles.
The Case for Female Superiority
Those who believe that women are better suited for project management claim that it comes down to several key traits.
Communication. Multiple studies have shown that women tend to be more effective communicators than men, both in terms of interpersonal and non-verbal communication. These skills are crucial to effective project management.
Teamwork. Another study indicated that women tend to manage in a more team-oriented style than men, and are better able to bring people together to complete tasks while creating a more cohesive group. This often stems from their communication abilities, and their willingness to show empathy and get to know people on a more personal level, which can create a greater sense of loyalty.
Multitasking. It’s no surprise that women are better multitaskers than men; in fact, psychologists have actually proven that women can handle more tasks than men, and can do them more quickly. This ability to handle multiple tasks at once, and handle unexpected issues as well, is a benefit within project management. Women tend to be less affected by changes in a project, and are able to quickly make necessary changes and come up with a new plan without too much difficulty.
Risk aversion. Several studies have indicated that women, in general, tend be more skilled than men in assessing risks and making decisions and acting in regard to risk. Men tend to be more likely to underestimate the risk of a negative outcome, and overestimate their ability to avoid that outcome. In project management, this tends to manifest as inflated budgets, missed deadlines, scope creep, and other issues.
When taken together, it seems obvious that a female would be a better choice than a male for a project manager. However, claims of female superiority in the field often rely on viewing these traits out of context, and ignore a very important factor: Individual strengths, skills, and training.
Men and Women Can Both Be Project Managers
In many ways, some of the typically male traits viewed as detrimental for project managers can actually be beneficial. For example, men may be more willing to take risks, but that could also be seen as a willingness to take on challenges, which is an important characteristic for a project manager. And while the typically feminine, empathetic communication style is great for building a team, a more authoritative style is often necessary for keeping the project on track.
The bottom line is that it’s disingenuous to look at either sex’s individual traits in isolation when considering project management, or any other field for that matter. The fact is, neither sex is necessarily better than the other, but individuals working in the field need to work on developing their own skills and knowledge of project management to successfully lead projects. By understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and using them to your advantage, you can be an excellent project manager, regardless of whether you are a male or a female.