The biggest barriers for women in the FM sector include challenges in gaining respect and authority, confidence and a lack of role models, according to a group of women in facilities management.
To mark International Women’s Day today, Monday 8 March, IWFM interviewed four prominent professionals about their experiences of working in workplace and facilities management as women. They were: Jemma Williams, senior director FM, JLL; Julie Kortens, consultant, Director Group; Nikki Lathbury, managing director, Hexagon Group/Hexagon FM; and Simone Fenton-Jarvis, workplace consultancy director, Ricoh UK.
When it came to barriers in the profession, Jemma Williams said “it will be a different challenge for each woman individually”.
She said: “Women of colour face challenges when working with teams on the ground in gaining respect and authority. As you continue your journey to senior management, the lack of people to look up to/aspire to that are 'like you' or like-minded POC at networking events can be off-putting. It then ties into limiting your exposure to potential roles in middle management or higher."
Julie Kortens, consultant, Director Group, said: "Confidence and belief in yourself. Many women are perfectly capable of success but need role models, supporters, mentors in order to unleash their own potential."
Nikki Lathbury, managing director, Hexagon Group/Hexagon FM, said: "Leaders thinking they need someone from a technical background to lead. This is not always the case. You need great leaders." She added that employers needed to take more risks because too many had "antiquated opinions" when recruiting and hired someone from a background they had always hired from.
Simone Fenton-Jarvis, workplace consultancy director, Ricoh UK, said: "The stereotypes which exist around hard and soft FM, the language used and the lack of visible role models."
When it came to whether women had had it harder during the pandemic Williams said "yes, especially women who are carers or parents". She said: "As a single parent with a school-aged child and a demanding job, having to then home school (a skill I'm not accustomed to) was overwhelming." Luckily, Williams was able to "ask for flexible working hours, and JLL did accommodate that" but acknowledged that many may not have been able to do that.
Kortens thinks that "I do not think that it is as simple as a gender split" because "we all have different personality traits and differing levels of experience and knowledge".
She added: "We all also have different personal circumstances. During the pandemic so many different skills have been needed; leadership, empathy, collaboration, communication, etc., have all been essential. These skills cut across gender and we all need to ensure that we are working to a common good, whether that is the survival of an individual business, supporting and managing the team around you or protecting the vulnerable."
Lathbury has observed that "it has been assumed that women will take responsibility for the homeschooling and care" and "so many of the workers in hospitality, frontline FM and retail are female" and so "many retail and hospitality workers have lost their roles, too".
There has been talk that the emergence of hybrid working as a result of the pandemic could help equality of opportunity. Williams hopes this is true. She said: "I hope we will see more work from home dads and mums, job sharing amongst both genders instead of part-time – which means full-time if you're not sharing the role with another."
According to Kortens: "This is a point which we will need to review once the data around changes in working patterns is available. In an ideal world, the ability to work at home and to avoid the daily commute to a specific place of work should benefit many. Working parents may well benefit but, if I had a concern, it is that many low-paid workers are unable to work from home in any case. The proportion of women in these roles remains high so the overall impact on equality of opportunity may well be skewed."
Lathbury says "we are seeing it with some of our clients already". She said: "They are looking at WFM contracts so they can open up the market to the best talent, rather than being geographically constrained."
Fenton-Jarvis hopes this is the start of society breaking away "from the hegemonic ways".
She added: "We have to be careful that the stereotype of women working flexibly doesn’t continue to be related to childcare. We also need to make sure that mentoring/promotions/access to opportunities isn’t affected by hybrid working, whether male, female or somewhere in between!"