Project Management
Project Management

It's a Journey: Navigating a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging

15 Dec 2021
Tony Appleby
On 7 December 2021, PMI's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (or DE&I) team came together with other thought leaders to discuss how organizations and individuals alike can build cultures of greater inclusivity. Moderator Tony Appleby, Chair of PMI's Board of Directors, shares key highlights and takeaways below.

We all strive to learn and grow from our experiences over the course of our professional and personal journeys.  

As we navigate the challenges of cultivating a culture rooted in inclusion and belonging, we have the unique opportunity to share our experiences—and ultimately strengthen our teams, projects, enterprises, and communities. 

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a spirited discussion hosted by PMI’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (or DE&I) team on how organizations and individuals alike can build cultures of greater inclusivity.  

The distinguished panelists included: 

  • M. Elizabeth (Liz) Ruttenberg, Programing, and Pathways, Office of Community Impact, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI), University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center
  • Dot McKelvy, Vice President Human Resources, Project Management Institute 
  • Susan Weinstock, Vice President Financial Resilience Programming, AARP 
  • Hiromi Inoue, General Manager and President, IBM Japan Digital Services 
  • Mohamed Khalifah, Partner and Consultant, Valense 
  • Srini Srinivasan, Managing Director, South Asia, Project Management Institute 

These leaders represent a range of sectors and industries, but the common thread is their focus on building cultures that can both welcome and attract pools of diverse talent. Diversity is a necessity in today’s workplace, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because diverse teams generate the best ideas.  

Indeed, PMI published research last year focused on the clear ROI (or “diversity dividend”) of inclusion on project teams. The report found that 88 percent of surveyed professionals report diverse project teams increase value, while organizations with culturally diverse leadership were associated with higher organizational performance. 

Yet as the report found, just 33% of survey respondents said their organization had a culturally diverse senior leadership team in place. In fact, nearly 60% were in organizations that do not have at least one female in the C-Suite. 

In recognition of these persistent challenges, the panelists took part in a discussion of everything from how they personally define DE&I to strategies for advancing workforce development.  

A few take-aways from the discussion: 

  • Mohamed Khalifah of Valense noted the distinct differences between equality and equity. “We need to empower everyone to have the same opportunity,” he said. He went on to stress the importance of ethics, fair treatment, and respect for colleagues to ensure a sense of belonging.  
  • Dot McKelvy of PMI stated that the organization has always been very diverse by nature of its global orientation, but took new and mindful action quickly in 2020 in recognition of the growing urgency around institutional racism. She spoke of the need to have “courageous conversations” and accept vulnerability during challenging discussions. 
  • Hiromi Inoue of IBM made the case for considering diversity beyond categories like race and gender to include professional backgrounds. She stressed that organizations with diverse perspectives—from project managers to IT-focused professionals—tend to be very resilient in times of change.  
  • Susan Weinstock of AARP made a powerful case for implementing policies that reduce stigma around age, given that for the first time we are seeing five generations collaborating side by side in the workplace. “A 10-year-old today has a 50% chance of living to be 104,” she said, a tribute to modern medicine and rising standards of wellness. But the media and modern culture continue to perpetuate stereotypes around older adults that unfortunately are reflected in workplace. She cited a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers which found that only around 8% of companies included age as a factor in their DE&I planning. AARP is advocating that more employers pledge to hire based on ability as opposed to age, with more than 1,200 companies having signed so far. She encouraged HR professionals to take a fresh look at job descriptions that may, intentionally or not, signal an unwelcome environment to senior citizens. (Think “digital native” or “fresh.”) 
  • Srini Srinivasan, who oversees PMI’s operations across the South Asia region, spoke of a common urgency expressed by chapter leaders across the region to move more women into leadership roles, as well as young people. “In India, for example, over ten million young people graduate from college each year,” he noted. In response to these trends, a regional women’s engagement committee was formed; in 18 months over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee successfully increased the number of women in membership roles by nearly 20%. The regional team also developed competitions involving mobile-based apps for solving project management problems that opened up opportunities to more than 4,500 students across the region. Srini noted the business necessity of this shift, as many large investors like Black Rock have adopted policies of not investing in companies that do not have a minimum of two female board directors for example.  
  • Elizabeth Ruttenberg of University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center spoke of her recent experience on a project management team that led a system-wide audit of the state of DE&I across the sprawling hospital system. This audit led to a plan for a broader, more intentional DEI strategy, including ideas such as establishing department-level Chief Diversity Officers.

You can register online to view a recording of the session and to learn more about PMI’s DE&I initiatives. 

Tony Appleby Tony Appleby

Tony Appleby is the managing director of the Project Strategy Consulting Group, specializing in organizational maturity and the delivery of strategic transformation. He has led engagements on six continents, partnering with executive and country leadership teams to achieve business objectives through improved operational capabilities and strategic performance management. He is also focused on expanding organizational project management process excellence to government agencies and nongovernmental organizations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.