Open-access content Monday 12th August 2013
BIFM deputy chair Liz Kentish (right) speaks to Lucy Jeynes (left), who was instrumental in setting up the institute's highly influential Women in FM (WIFM) special interest group.
12 August 2013
LJ: It was quite a journey to get to the point of setting it up. I was on the board at BIFM, as chair of the membership services committee looking at the services we offer members. I'd often receive emails asking whether we had a group for women working in the industry.
At first, I wasn't really in favour of gender-specific activities because I didn't see the need for them. But after a while, I thought: "I've had a lot of these emails and given I'm supposed to be responsible for representing the members, maybe I should do something about it."
So I did what every sensible person would and spoke to Anne Lennox-Martin (one of only two women fellows at the BIFM at the time, and also one of the first women to get a masters in FM) and Marilyn Standley, who'd been the first female BIFM chair.
We put together an event called 'Women in FM' at which we asked a number of questions: should there be a Women in FM group? If there was such a group, what do you think it should do, and would you join? We had over 110 people there, which is a lot for a BIFM event. Most had never attended a BIFM event before. We had structured focus groups at the event; when we asked what kind of events they would like, they mentioned information and learning events, personal development events, building tours, technical talks. We thought, well, we already have all of that available through other groups. But when we asked 'why don't you do that already", they said, 'Oh, I've tried a BIFM event before; everyone seemed to know each other, I was the only woman there', or 'It was very formal or very male-driven, structured networking'.
Of course, now we know that there's evidence that women aren't as comfortable with that style of networking.
At the time, 11 per cent of BIFM membership was female, but that was overwhelmingly at associate level. At member level, the numbers were much smaller. One of the things we needed to do was push women, pull women and support women as they climbed up the ladder, because facilities management is a profession for everybody. People already in the sector thought FM was a job for anyone, and if you take the stereotypical view that women can multi-task, we must be ideally suited for some of the roles in FM.
LK: So was that one of the key aims of the group, to help women in their career development?
LJ: Actually, from my perspective as chair of membership services, the key aim was to engage with a group of people we weren't already engaged with. I wanted to get them to participate in the institute and become a part of the community.
I think a professional institute is all about making people feel that they belong, and we thought: "Here is a group of people who want to belong to something and they don't feel like they belong to any of the other things that we already have."
That's what we really wanted to do - grow and maintain the membership. At the time, we had a problem with attrition - people would join the institute for a couple of years and then leave. I felt this was because people didn't really feel they belonged. After all, membership isn't just about having a magazine, it's about being a part of a community.
Today, of the people who attend our events, usually at least a third are men. It must be because they think it will be a good place to come - they are very supportive.
When we ran the first formal event as a group, we invited all the BIFM London region committee members to come as well. The chair of the London region at the time mentioned afterwards how different our event had been to his. At the London region meetings, they would start off with the introductions, using formal titles like 'Mr Chairman' and have a report from the committee.
The way we do things at WiFM events is we have the wine at the beginning, rather than at the end because it helps people to network. For that first session, we started off with a bit of a warm-up, and we didn't all sit down in banks of chairs. Everyone really enjoyed it.
Today we've got a lot of people who are regular attendees. But also, many of the people I speak to say it's the first institute event they've been to. They say: "It's because I thought the people would be friendly." Now that's really interesting because I've never been to a BIFM event where I haven't found it friendly. I think it's a really friendly profession.
LK: What would you say to men who would never consider coming to a Women in FM event? What could you say to encourage them to come along and see what it's
LJ: The first men that started to come were people who got it straight away. They felt that it would be useful for anyone who employed women. If you are in FM and you are a boss, you'd learn a different perspective that would help you improve your management skills.
You could also be interested in seeing women progress in your industry. For example, a cleaning company's employees are very diverse but look at the board of a cleaning company and there's hardly any women - you get the whole 'white men in suits' factor.
If you are concerned about that, this is something that we're going to be actively looking at and working on. We're going to be helping women develop strategies to progress in the profession. And it's not just about women - anyone else that wants to come is extremely welcome. It's going to help people feel more comfortable at these events, where you might not know anybody. We have a lot of developmental activities focused on helping people to network.
Another characteristic that we have that everyone really likes, is 'plotting my FM journey'. How do people progress in FM? How have they got there, how did they do it? How do you get from being here to being there? One of the things that was coming from the feedback was women who said they didn't realise there were so many other women in these FM roles. It's really nice to see that women can be successful in this sector.
LK: Many of the people who stand up and present their 'career journey' might not have presented in public before. What do they get as an individual from sharing that with other people?
LJ: We're all familiar with the idea that people tend to 'end up' in FM, rather than choosing it specifically. This means there are a lot of interesting histories out there. I think that once you stand up and talk about your journey, that journey suddenly makes sense to you.
Instead of simply saying that you did a lot of jobs and ended up in FM, the process of shaping your story opens your eyes about your achievements. All along the way, you were learning things. Then it clicks that now you're in FM, you use everything you've learnt before. You're looking at so many different facets and doing so many different things, that nothing you did before is ever wasted. You think of any of the jobs that you had, whether it was working in a post room or waitressing. I used to peel prawns at Young's seafood - not the most glamorous job. I also worked in marketing, which helped me with my communication and presenting. So everyone's story that finishes in FM makes sense of all the things they've done before.
One of the things we've tried to do with the FM journey presentations is to make sure that they aren't just about people like Marilyn, an ex-chair of the institute. If you look at someone like Ismena (Clout, current BIFM chair), you think yes, she's young, she's had a short journey to the top - she looks like a superwoman. A lot of people might think that they couldn't do what she's done. So it's also about having regular folk that have had good, steady progression and have now got a good job and developed and progressed. Personally, I think everyone can do that.
LK: On that subject, the Women in FM mentoring scheme is about bringing mentors and mentees together, but the mentors don't necessarily have to be people who have got years and years of experience. Is that the case?
LJ: When call out for mentors, plenty of people are really interested and they all say that they would like a mentor. I have to ask to them whether they themselves would consider being a mentor? Because actually, some of them have got really valuable experience. Generally, they don't think they are experienced enough.
For most of the mentors, it's not a public thing that doesn't involve much particular recognition for it, it's something that you do as a personal commitment to helping someone progress. Nobody's getting paid for it, they don't have the PR splash about it, it's just two people making a commitment to develop. Yes, it involves making a time commitment, and helping someone to progress, but at heart it's about sharing some of the things the mentor has seen and learned, which might prove helpful to this person. And maybe if they can ask them some structured questions, it can help them realise what they need to do - it will help them to get on.
LK: Women in FM is obviously a very strong group. Are there a lot of women in the groups that you have links to?
LJ: Women in Building Services Engineering (WIBSE) is a very exciting group - it's only just started. It has different sorts of events to ours because it only got together last year and it has a smaller membership. In fact, there are even fewer women in engineering than there are in FM. It's had a couple of its events in places like a chocolate shop, which obviously boosted attendance!
One of the things we're now doing is looking at other groups we can network with. We had a lot of dialogue with women in FM in Australia in the early days; the Australian FMA. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICSc) has a women in property group, and we have contact with them, and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA now has a woman president, which is fantastic).
I was involved in the Women in Business group in the Midlands, which again started in a similar way: people didn't go to networking events because they were quite blokey. We had a very specific agenda there, which was to get women comfortable enough to come to the mainstream events. This worked really well, but that was a much more overt agenda.
We didn't have an agenda like that for the Women in FM event, but what we've done is widen the community of engaged people, which is what we wanted to do.
We have twelve to fourteen events a year and they're always fully booked. I think the best FM event of the last year was our conference (held at Channel 4's headquarters in London). I am obviously biased, but it was superb. Of all the SIGs, and the regions that I've been involved in, I think we've got the highest proportion of actively engaged people that want to support us and help.
We haven't struggled at all to recruit for the committee, or for people who will help out at events. I wonder if that might be a gender thing?
LK: What do you consider WiFM's contribution to the development of FM as a discipline?
LJ: Every event we've put on has been positively received. I think we've helped people to improve their professional competence, knowledge and confidence. Over period we've been running the group, the number of women who have reached the higher levels of membership at the BIFM has increased. It may not be a direct consequence of what we're doing, but it's all part of the movement that is happening now. Today, the institute's membership is 20 per cent women, and we've got far more women fellows. Overall, there's a far greater visibility of women.
LK: What are the challenges for women who will be working in FM in the future?
LJ: Today, if you're a woman coming out of university, you don't like to describe yourself as a feminist. Many women feel that the battle of the sexes is all but done and finished. And when you're 21, it is. There are more women than men entering many professions, such as law and accounting, and medicine. Women don't come in to these professions thinking it's going to be hard, they actually think it's going to be fine all the way through.
Put bluntly, younger women haven't experienced sexism in the workplace. They haven't experienced situations in which nearly all the decision makers are men, who don't quite get it. They haven't been in an environment where they're working with people who have a very different viewpoint than them.
When you watch interviews with career people, no-one ever asks a man how they are going to balance their life and their work. It's easy to reject the concept of 'feminism' out of hand, but this is the kind of thing we're trying to say: "judge me by my capabilities". Employers need
to accept the fact that work today needs to reflect our increasingly diverse world.
LK: And I guess women have to help women in their role as well. If we want to make sure that people are judging people on their capabilities, then as senior women, we need to do that. We need to lead by example.
LJ: Absolutely. We need to put our money where our mouths are. There aren't many of us working at a senior level, so those of us that are here need to reach out. We need to offer a helping hand to bring other people up here. We need to make sure we are exercising our responsibilities in the profession to make it inclusive, which it isn't quite at the moment. When we have 50 per cent membership, 50 per cent fellows, 50 per cent fully qualified, then we've reached it, haven't we.
LK: Lucy, you and I both hear people say: "This is 2013, why on earth do we need a Women in FM group?" What are your thoughts - do we still need WiFM?
LJ: It's not compulsory to join. Some people don't fancy coming - in the same way that I don't fancy going on a golf day. As an institute, it's about engaging with as many people as we possibly can, and having as many events in as many different styles and flavours as possible. There are hundreds of different ways into the profession, and many different ways into the institute. WiFM is contributing something alternative. And we've been pretty successful so far.
Women in FM: timeline:
2007: Lucy Jeynes, with Anne Lennox-Martin, Linda Tilbury and others, sets up a WiFM group, which is grown and nurtured by the BIFM's London region.
2007: FM World runs a campaign to find the most influential women in the FM sector.
2008: The WiFM group is formally recognised as a BIFM special interest group.
2012: The first national WiFM conference is held, at Channel 4's headquarters in London, organised by the then sig chair Julie Kortens in collaboration with Women in Building Services Engineering (WIBSE). More than 150 delegates attend the event.
Readers wishing to join the WiFM sig should email [email protected] or call 0845 058 1356