08 Mar 2021

2021 Gender Equity Report: The Diversity Challenge

Report, Gender equity
2021 Gender Equity Report: The Diversity Challenge

The diversity challenge for the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) and the project management profession still looms large.

In 2021 we have reviewed the changes that are taking place in regards to gender equity in the workplace and provide a spotlight on some of the organisations leading this change.

Following the huge disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 12 months and the consequent recession and forced rapid changes to business models across Australia and the world, it is important to look at the gains and losses against some of these areas that have occurred.

Over the past 6 years there has been a 5% improvement in female membership of AIPM. We will seek to better understand some of the dynamics feeding into the rate of growth of women considering a career in project management.

At the core of this seemingly low percentage of female members is the fact that the Australian workforce is highly gender segregated by industry and occupation - a pattern that has persisted over the last 20 years according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WEGA). AIPM’s membership comes predominantly from project-based organisations in male dominated industry groups, including mining, construction, manufacturing, IT and professional, scientific and technical services. The sectors that employ the highest numbers of women in 2019-20 were health care and social assistance (79%), education and training (71.6%) and retail trade (55%). All are lower paid industries and tend not to be highly project-based organisations.

We expect the ratio of males to females in our membership and profession to continue to improve through two avenues. Firstly, as male oriented organisations continue to improve their gender balance, and secondly, as more female dominant industries become more project oriented, there will naturally be more women attracted to project management. AIPM remains committed to growing gender diversity on both fronts and believes that on current trends, AIPM is on track to have females representing 30% of membership by 2027.

Throughout this report we will highlight how organisations, such as Aurecon and NS Group are driving change and improving gender equity in the workplace, through measures such as supporting diversity, providing flexible working conditions, and focusing on a culture of continual transformation.





Australian women and men have traditionally worked in different industries and different jobs. Six out of ten Australians work in industries dominated by one gender. The COVID-19 pandemic has had very different impacts on a range of industries, some beneficial like home making (think Nick Scali) and supermarkets (Wesfarmers and Woolworths), while others were devasted, like airlines (Virgin) and tourism.

AIPM’s latest membership survey shows that the majority of female project professionals work within the the Government (23%) and Construction (17%) industries.

While the pandemic triggered a $5 billion reduction in construction and building projects, it is expected these industries will recover to pre-COVID-19 levels by 2023.

Despite this reduction, ‘Construction Project Manager’ and ‘Project Builder’ remain on the Australian Skilled Occupation List for 482 Visas for Temporary Skills Shortage.


Source: Australian Construction Industry Forum – Australian Construction Market report, November 2020; AFR

Of the remaining respondents, Defence and Aerospace (11%), Education and Training (8%), and Information Technology (8%) were also popular industries for female project professionals.

The project-based Defence sector has benefited from increased Federal Budget spending under the Coalition Government and demand for project management skills has been tipped to increase due to this extra spending.

Large organisations, such as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, have a higher growth in project management roles than other roles within the organisation.


Source: LinkedIn September 2020​

Research by Queensland University of Technology, published in 2019, found pioneering evidence for positive effects on profit (EBITDA) of more women in management in project-based organisations (PBOs). This supports the argument that PBO’s are better able to capitalise on the benefits of increased representation of women because of the greater value in creativity and innovation achieved through mixed gender teams.

So despite the recession, AIPM believes that project-based organisations will continue to face challenges of increasing skill shortages in the coming years, especially in project management. Leveraging female management talent could meet demand for project managers and improve organisational competitiveness and outcomes.

As we look to projects to support economic recovery and to help project professionals accelerate in their careers as project leaders, in 2020 AIPM launched a new jobs board PM JOBS @ AIPM.


The workforce participation rate went down for both genders in the first half of 2020.


Source: ABS July 2020

However, these statistics do not reveal the full gendered impact of the pandemic. Women are over-represented in part-time and casual work with 43% of employed women working part-time compared to 16% for men in 2019-20 (ABS), and during the lockdowns, these types of workplace engagement were hard hit.

In addition, the burden of home schooling and primary caring responsibilities have also influenced the paid work capacity and decisions of families/women.

Once restrictions eased and businesses reopened, many of the roles in effected industries held by women bounced back in the September quarter.

Source: ABS July 2020



A major disincentive for women returning to the workforce following a career break is the availability of and attitudes towards flexible work and has been an area of seismic shift during 2020. Infrastructure Australia reported that almost a third of Australia’s workforce worked from home during the pandemic, with a third of these hoping to continue post COVID-19.

That’s around 4 million employees who have been working from home since March 2020. Business models have had to change and adapt. In a recent survey the proportion of respondents who wish to work from home once per week or more has grown from 27% prior to COVID-19, to 42% post-COVID-19. Around 15% of respondents would like to increase their level of working from home post COVID-19 compared with pre-COVID-19.


Source: University of Melbourne, Financy and Deloitte Access Economics, June 2020

However, while flexible working conditions have improved, women are still shouldering the burden of unpaid work in a relationship, with significant increases in primary care activities and supervisory care for mothers during COVID-19, compared to fathers.

The push to a ‘hybrid structure’ that will see a split of working time between the office and home is a hot topic in current business media. AIPM has asked some of our major organisational partners about the shift to working from home during the pandemic, and their views on what the ‘new normal’ will be post pandemic.


“COVID-19 has shown that people can still connect and be productive remotely. In some ways it has increased collaboration and connection. It has also increased empathy and understanding as we support one another through this crisis. We have gained a greater insight and appreciation of our colleagues and the different situations we all experience. We are careful to promote flexible working as a benefit for everyone, not just for parents or carers. We can all have agency over how we work, our experience of work and our ability to integrate work with other commitments and interests in our lives.”

Penny Rush
Diversity & Inclusion Manager ANZ, Aurecon



Download the full report for more insights below.