Putting an end to the boys’ club: women in FM
Just like many other industries such as utilities, construction, mining and various trades, facility management is a male-dominated industry.
Women in Facility Management (WiFM), a not-for-profit organisation that works to build a support network for women in the industry, estimates that women only make up around 20 to 30 percent of the facility management field. FM is slowly changing to accommodate more women; yet, it still has quite a way to go.
Kirsten Smith is the co-founder and chair of WiFM. “The amount of female employees also depends on which sector you are looking at,” she says. “Operational, I would say has around 10 percent women, managerial is at approximately 20 percent, and strategic has the most – I would estimate at about 40 percent of those in strategy are female.
“When we started WiFM 15 years ago, I really noticed the predominance of men in the industry,” Smith says. Despite spending much of her career in construction, a field where she was always the ‘token woman’, the lean towards men in FM was still obvious to her.
“Nowadays I do see many more women in the industry – we have moved into a ‘service’ and relationship orientation, which provides women with the ability to manage multiple things in an organised way, an opportunity to shine,” she says. Since setting up WiFM, Smith notes that the rising importance of service has assisted in positioning women as a key part of the ‘glue’ that helps the industry provide better outcomes for clients.
“In my experience, numbers of women are growing in all areas though,” she says. “From the highly technical and operational to multidisciplinary projects across all property industries. I have found that women in particular have a skill for connecting with others first before getting down to business. Women are also often more flexible and will collaborate with others to ensure their buy-in to an outcome.”
While the numbers of men and women in the field are slowly creeping towards equality, there are reasons for the remaining disparity. “Like most professional fields, males have always dominated,” Louisa Keleher, WiFM’s Melbourne event organiser, says. “I would say the lack of flexibility in some workplaces, heavy workloads and shortage of female mentors also contribute.”
People generally employ people who are like themselves, so men tend to employ men. With most senior positions in the industry occupied by males, this only breeds the subconscious hiring of one gender over the other. “People also tend to lean towards employing men as the ‘primary’ breadwinner,” Smith explains. “There is much research showing that diverse world views and gender parity in pay and decision-making makes for better decisions, and companies doing this are making more money.”
An awareness and conscious alteration of the tendency to lean towards the hiring of men is one thing that can help to minimise gender disparity in FM, alongside the acceptance that employees, particularly women, have both their careers and families as priorities in life.
Many women in demanding industries such as facility management find difficulty in continuing their career once they begin to have children, due to a lack of flexibility in the workplace. And many workplaces still cater to traditional gender roles and an office full of men – men who were historically the ‘breadwinners’ and took a back seat when it came to the rearing of children.
Nowadays, however, women are an essential part of the workforce and these gender roles have altered, meaning men often need the same flexibility as they take a more active parenting role as well. Flexibility in the corporate environment – allowing women to go part-time after they have a baby, the ability to work from home and the flexibility of hours – is essential in the quest for helping women to excel in the industry.
“Because FM services businesses, it’s still not easy to work part-time in a client-facing role,” Smith explains, “Like many companies, within FM organisations, management is becoming more comfortable with managing people by outcome than line of sight and, coupled with mobile technology, more flexibility can be experienced. But there is still a long way to go.
“The FM industry is all about building better workplaces for people – workplaces that are agile and mobile. We need to drive flexible work practice policy and tools for everyone, not just women, and model for our clients how it works,” she says.
Diversity has been proven to lead to better decisions and outcomes for companies, including financial ones. Furthermore, employees who are given flexibility and choice are more engaged and likely to stay in a job longer. It’s just up to the industry to embrace this and enact change.
So what tips can be offered to women starting out in FM? “Find a good FM and ask them to be your mentor,” Smith says. “Call on your peers for help, know that there is support and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” adds Keleher. “Find a support group where you can discuss concerns with others, and aim high – reach the top and help change gender inequality.”