The profile of a ‘typical FM’ – a 45-year-old man having fallen into the profession – has remained largely unchanged since 1999, a recent IWFM webinar audience heard. During the IWFM Turbulent Times event Dr Toyin Aderiye, principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and director of its MBA programme, picked the phrase from a student’s dissertation.
Noting that the profile of women in FM is changing, Aderiye said that it was change that has been, and continues to be, slow. Part of the problem, she said, lies in the absence of a defined career path in FM – a profession rarely mentioned when children are asked about their futures.
A historical problem
Colin Kimber, associate director at Pareto Facilities Management, thinks that the problem is principally historical.
He told Facilitate: “The entire FM industry has developed from the old-style caretaker / engineer roles that existed. These roles were male-dominated and typically performed by straight white men.
“As the industry grew the existing workforce took on additional tasks and responsibilities, riding the wave of the industry’s growth until they found themselves in positions of power. Then through a combination of hiring in their own image and general attitudes at the time, socially, the industry has managed to maintain its straight white male face.”
Dereck Dziva, senior manager of global workplace & facilities at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, told Facilitate that he thinks the lack of diversity in the sector is down to how people enter it.
“In some instances – mine included – FMs transition from other roles within the organisation, in response to specific projects such as office moves. This might result in the organisation not looking externally at a wider diverse pool of potential FMs.”
In other instances where the organisation looks outside itself, Dziva said, there is often a narrow view of what FMs do. “A good number of FMs do not report to other senior facilities or workplace leaders, instead they report to finance or HR leaders, whose understanding of FM is probably limited to a basic level and invariably leads to the recruitment of a stereotypical candidate.”
The solution? Dziva said: “Recruitment agencies should work more closely with institutes such as IWFM in order to better inform and educate their clients, so they are more familiar with the value that FMs bring to their organisations.”
Alice Omisanya, facilities services manager at the University of London, thinks more transparent discussions are needed – especially on what the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement seeks to “eliminate some of the misconceptions” to help employers “make ethical decisions”. She highlighted the importance of firms conducting polls and research so that positive actions, change and tangible results can be seen through the introduction of policies and training.
She added: “The industry needs to develop and implement training that addresses this topic, so that real diversity within the profession can exist.”
Kizzy Augustin, health and safety solicitor at law firm Russell-Cooke, said that while a lack of gender diversity was a problem, certain shifts were occurring and that the workplace and facilities management profession “should be focused on implementing “diversity of ‘personalities’ and not just gender”.
The BLM movement, said Augustin, highlights “that there are few ‘people of colour’ in FM roles and that organisations need to take accountability by adopting a robust approach to addressing these issues”.
Change should start before recruitment, she suggested. “FM providers should be identifying students for whom a career in FM is an accessible and worthwhile one.”