George Asamani, MD, Project Management Institute, Sub-Saharan Africa

Economies that impose restrictions on women’s contributions fall short of their potential. Inversely, an economy reaches its peak dynamism when every citizen, regardless of gender, is empowered to contribute equally. There is a saying in Nigeria, “The one who carries the firewood feels the weight the most.” The proverb is reflective of the gender disparity in the country and continues to dim women’s prospects and deny them the opportunity to participate fully in the economy. 

According to the World Bank’s Women, Business, and Law 2023 report, which surveys some 190 economies, only 14 are gender equal. The remaining countries still have room to improve and, at the pace of current reforms, will need some 50 years to catch up. Simply put, a 20-year-old entering the workforce today will retire before she can enjoy gender-equal rights. This means that their talents, ideas, and abilities will remain underutilised.

The report shows economies in Sub-Saharan Africa led the way in 2022, enacting more than half of the reforms recorded. Many of these addressed laws affecting women’s pay and careers after having children—the areas with the most room to improve. Yet, this progress barely scratches the surface of what’s truly required.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the global labour force participation rate for women is just under 47%, compared with 72% for men. This gender gap in employment is even starker in project management, where male project managers outnumber female project managers by 3:1, according to recent research from the Project Management Institute.  

According to the United Nations, women earn about 20% less than men for work of equal value. The pay gap in most countries is below the global average for female project managers, but it is significant nonetheless. Female project managers earn less than male counterparts in every country surveyed, according to PMI’s recent salary survey.

Interestingly, women’s lives in Africa are often complex projects, requiring them to manage and balance multiple responsibilities, roles, and expectations. The essence of project management, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing projects is remarkably analogous to the daily tasks women perform. Therefore, there is merit in formalising these innate capabilities into project management skills to enhance their efficiency, effectiveness, and resilience. Skills such as risk management, stakeholder communication, and resource allocation are directly translatable to managing finances, negotiating workplace dynamics, and advocating for social change.

In a sector marked by a talent shortage, the statistics point to the underutilisation of skills women bring to the Project Economy and the loss of diversity in a male-dominated environment. Project management skills equip women with a versatile toolkit highly valued across industries. This versatility opens doors to better employment opportunities, fostering economic independence and security. Moreover, these skills are crucial for entrepreneurship — a path many women pursue in Africa. 

Investing in skilling women is not just an act of empowerment; it’s a strategic necessity for the continent. Ghanaian James Kwegyir Aggrey demonstrated this foresight over a century ago: “The surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.” 

Skilling women catalyses a multiplier effect that benefits everyone. Educated and skilled women are more likely to invest in their families and communities, improving health, education, and economic outcomes. They can challenge and change discriminatory practices and policies, paving the way for more inclusion.

The journey of mastering project management skills is also one of personal growth. It encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability, qualities that are invaluable in both personal and professional contexts. In the current era, where the call to action could not be more direct, the spotlight turns not just on women’s economic and social empowerment but also on how instrumental skills, such as project management, can accelerate progress. 

Governments and organisations must prioritise the development of these competencies to not only achieve gender equality but to harness 100% of the potential of 50% of the world’s population. 

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