Women in FM: insights from the IFMA’s report

by Sophie Berrill
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Women have historically been underrepresented in facilities management. While this issue continues to stick, like many industries, ours is starting to look a little less male and a little less white – albeit slowly.

At the moment, women make up just 22 percent of the global FM workforce. Issues still persist for this cohort, including high attrition rates and disparities with male FMs when it comes to the primary functions of their jobs.

The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) wanted to take a granular look at the state of gender equality in FM today. With the help of Simplar Foundation, IFMA surveyed 3557 IFMA and non-IFMA members globally to compare the experience of women and men.

Results were shared in a webinar this morning and discussed among a panel of experts, including women working in the industry. Here is a breakdown of what was discussed.

Women in FM around the world

Among the 3557 survey respondents, 2726 reported their gender. Respondents came from all over the world, with most based in North America and 225 from APAC.

The results found that, on average, women constitute 22 percent of the global FM workforce. But this gender mix is not equal across regions. 

In APAC, women constitute 18 percent of the FM workforce, compared with just five percent in the Middle East. North America had the highest proportion of women in FM, at 25 percent.

The report found no significant difference in gender mix across the industries of government, education, healthcare or banking and investment.

Age breakdown

The average woman working in FM is 45 years old, according to the report. Compared with men, there are fewer women near retirement age (over 56 years old) in FM. 

Based on these findings, Dr Steven Call, a facilities expert from Washington State University, suggested that employers should consider the recruitment of women a strategic advantage to address the ageing FM workforce and related attrition challenges.

Why do women continue to be underrepresented in FM?

The panel was asked why they thought women continue to be underrepresented in FM. One key issue became clear: the average person doesn’t understand what facilities management is.

“When they think of FM, they think of a whole host of things, but don’t really think about the career journey that you can experience in facilities management,” remarked chair of the IFMA board, Irene Thomas-Johnson. 

“So I do think that that’s why women in particular, and diverse populations also, are underrepresented in this field.”

Chubb head of facility management EMEA Lorena Espada “completely agreed”. 

“I think it’s not particular to facilities management, I think it happens in many sectors and in many countries,” she said. 

“But it is true that, in general, people don’t really know what facility management is all about and I think there’s a general idea that you need a technical background, which could look more masculine rather than feminine. And they don’t know about the management and the other possibilities of the career within facility management, which doesn’t have to be technical and could actually relate very much more to a ‘women way’ of doing things than a ‘man way’ of doing things, if there are two ways of doing things.”

Christa Dodoo, another IFMA board member said the situation was similar in Africa, Europe and North America.

“We are so in the mindset that FM is a very male-dominated field because most people understand FM as a very traditional boiler room profession. We need to shift our mindset,” she said.

More people need to be aware that FM can now include workplace management strategy, customer service, data analytics, tech, financial aspects, and a focus on the circular economy,” says Dodoo.

“These are not just areas that are specific to men or tailored to the background of men,” she said. 

The main functions of an FM

The modern FM wears many hats, and the report split these primary functions into five: interior design and space planning, engineering, construction and projects, real estate and facility operations.

The majority of men and women work in a facility operation role, but there was some small difference along gender lines within the function of FM.

Four percent of women respondents said their primary function was in interior design and space planning, compared with one percent of men. Meanwhile, four percent of men responded that engineering was their primary job function, compared with zero percent of women. 

“Again, this is an opportunity to hopefully, over time, maybe shift that perception of what FM is to help bring a better blend between genders,” said Dr Call.

The most significant finding

According to Dr Call, the most significant finding was the gender mix by job level.

Thirty-one percent of entry level roles are being filled by women, which is significantly higher than the average number of roles filled by women.

Dr Call interpreted this data as showing that the industry overall is “doing a better job of recruiting and bringing in females into the profession”.

“The struggle appears to be that, as careers progress into mid and senior-level roles, women appear to be leaving the industry,” he said.

Women fill 21 percent of the mid-level jobs, and just 15 percent of senior-level jobs.

“We’re not doing a sufficient job of retaining women in the facility management workforce,” Dr Call concluded.

Why are women leaving the profession at a higher rate than men?

Is the issue with education? Are there gender pay gaps in the workforce? This is the question the study sought to investigate.

Interestingly, it found no significant difference in education levels between men and women in FM. Facility and business management are the most common university majors regardless of gender, with institutions producing an equal mix of men and women graduates.

Entering the workforce, women find jobs faster than men at every job level in FM. They also have longer current job tenures than men in FM, especially in more senior roles

“What this is saying in essence is that there is a demand for females in the world of FM,” said Dr Call.

When it comes to pay, women receive similar pay as men for entry-level and early mid-level FM jobs. They receive significantly higher pay than men for more senior-level FM jobs, even with similar or less budget or staff responsibility.

“Clearly pay is not negatively impacting this issue of women staying in the profession, so that’s really curious,” he said.  

The conclusion

So, the reason women are exiting FM at a higher rate than men is, according to the report, not due to lack of education, low pay or limited industry demand.

In the end, it did not have an answer, noting additional research is necessary to explore other factors impacting high attrition of women in FM. But it did provide interesting insights on the current potential for women in facility management.

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