Lipstick Project Management and Liberia

I caught Inside Africa at the weekend and heard Swanee Hunt from the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard talking about the role Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is playing in furthering the involvement of women in government. Hunt said that the President is taking a ‘feminine’ approach to her first months in government by including a period of consultation in her 150-day plan.

I’ve long held the belief that women and men approach problems in a different way, although I wouldn’t call consultation a particularly ‘feminine’ matter. No gendered approach is better than another; we just play to our different strengths. In the environments where I have worked, I’ve seen that women have a raft of different styles to pull out of our Lancel bags when it comes to the management of projects. We can play it tough or use a gentler approach. And from the moment we’re born, we learn how to be experts at getting what we want while making it appear to be someone else’s idea. All fabulous skills for lipstick project managers. What’s a lipstick project manager? A woman (I’ve never seen a man take exactly this approach) who:

  • slicks on lipstick before a difficult steering group meeting to complement her newly-pressed power-dressing suit
  • flirts with her Sponsor to get issues resolved quickly
  • uses the ‘blonde’ cloak, asking apparently stupid questions to clarify requirements and get to the bottom of issues.

And essentially, gets away with it.

Female project managers have a host of other skills as well of course – we get where we are thanks to talent and hard work, not Maybelline – but I’ve certainly never found it a disadvantage to be a woman. And hopefully, with the openness and changes now evident in President Sirleaf’s government, neither will Liberian women who want to play an active role in the management of their country.

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