As the commercial cleaning industry continues to evolve, the roles of management, frontline workers, and everything in between are also changing. ISSA’s Hygieia Network has a mission to create an inclusive industry for women to succeed in the workplace, through education, mentoring, networking, and support programs. How has the industry progressed and what opportunities exist for women in commercial cleaning?
We asked four members of the Hygieia Network to weigh in on what the industry looks like today, what has helped them get where they are, and for their insight on the best tools for women looking to lead the commercial cleaning industry.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some of the industry challenges that women have had to overcome?
Judith Virag, Clean Club Calgary: Historically, cleaning roles have been associated with women, perpetuating the stereotype that cleaning is “women’s work.” This perception can and has led to biases and discrimination, making it harder for women to be taken seriously in leadership positions or higher-paying roles within the industry.
Shannon Hall, Dustbane Products Ltd.: Having faced several biases when starting in our industry, I was told that I didn’t belong here. The consensus was that I needed to spend 20 years cleaning to earn my place. When I’ve been the only woman at the boardroom table, I have been ignored and dismissed when bringing up ideas or concerns in meetings or undermined when people ask if someone else (higher up than me) will be joining the meeting. I have fought condescending attitudes throughout my career, referred to as “a pretty face” or called “kiddo.” I wish I could say that these were just my unique experiences, but unfortunately, I have heard the same stories from many other women in the industry.
Haley Pirie, GT French: One of the biggest challenges for women that I see is having to prove their knowledge in all the aspects of this industry such as products, equipment, innovative solutions, and more. It has been my experience that women are often perceived as less knowledgeable in these categories.
Armanda Sousa, Bee-Clean Building Maintenance: Sexism unfortunately still exists. In this day and age, women have proven our resilience to provide at home, as well as in the workplace. It’s important that we continue to educate the community and population at large about the ongoing issues women still face today. It is through communication we can start to address problems such as sexism, language barriers, lack of education qualification, and more.
What tools, skills, or resources have helped you along the way?
Hall: Having had some great male allies throughout my career has been helpful in male-dominated industries. I believe in the motto “always be learning” and have used LinkedIn Learning, CPSA courses, ISSA’s courses, and hands-on lessons in the field to make sure I am staying fresh and knowledgeable. The ISSA Hygieia Network has been a great resource, providing the opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues and helping to create a place where we can help women advance in the industry. Having a mentor and being a mentor, too, has been an amazing experience where each individual takes away so much from the relationship.
Virag: Resiliency and training are big ones for me. Building my confidence in knowing that when I step into a room, I am just as valuable as everyone else. Also, coaching is fundamental; my business coach has been instrumental in developing some of my skills. When the opportunity arises, I take advantage of all possible training.
Pirie: Learning and practicing empathy, positivity, and active listening are all vital skills to anyone looking to be in a leadership role. Curiosity is also very important – in my experience, if you can find the why, the solution can be found. I also recommend connecting with other women in the industry who can relate to you and/or mentor you. The Hygieia Network is a great community for anyone in the commercial cleaning industry.
How are women making their mark on the industry today?
Hall: I think women have always made a mark in this industry, but I do believe we are shining more of a light on our accomplishments and recognizing strong leaders and rising stars these days. I believe we are starting to see more diversity in senior roles within organizations and hope that one day we will see an even stronger balance. I believe women are helping to remove the unwritten rules and create awareness for opportunities for further inclusion.
Virag: Women – like myself – are leading through entrepreneurship. I have seen so many cleaning companies start up that are 90 per cent women-owned, and that’s so great to see.
Pirie: Women are making their mark by supporting each other. I see more women in leadership roles now than I ever have. Having a community like The Hygieia Network that is focused on supporting and empowering women to develop their careers in this industry is making a difference every day.
How does the commercial cleaning industry benefit from having women in leadership roles?
Hall: I believe every organization can benefit from having a diverse leadership team, tending to be more creative, with different perspectives to offer, and this type of leadership has been shown to result in higher profits. The cleaning industry has traditionally been slower to change and adopt new technologies and strategies. The old adage ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ can maintain the status quo, but in these times of high turnover, advancement in technology, and market shifts, we need diverse ideas and perspectives more than ever.
Virag: Before I started my business, I worked as an executive assistant, and was surprised at the male-dominated sales teams I saw in many cleaning companies. In commercial cleaning, there needs to be opportunity for all, and the clarity, vision, and attention to detail that women possess are valuable assets to the industry.
Sousa: Women in the workplace help move the business and the industry forward by guiding, mentoring, and managing projects.
Pirie: Having women in leadership roles can offer variety, providing new inventive ideas, allowing shared team experiences, making stronger teams, gaining competitive advantages, and qualifying to manage a wider variety of clients. It’s important that there are women in leadership roles so that other women see that they can grow their careers in this industry, too. Having more women in leadership and executive positions can change the narrative in this industry.
What advice can you give to other women looking to get ahead and make a difference in commercial cleaning?
Pirie: My advice would be to connect with others who can help support you in reaching your goals, regardless of any adversity you may face. Continue to be curious and grow your knowledge base as it pertains to the industry and your ability to lead.
Hall: Take the opportunities! When an opportunity arises to participate in something new, contribute ideas to move forward. Don’t hesitate, jump in, and join networks like Hygieia, working to connect allies, and opportunities for growth. Meet and seek out individuals who have a spark or offer to help someone who might need a little coaching to help them grow in their role. Keep developing your skills – technology and change are happening faster than ever, so stay ahead of the curve by learning new skills.
Virag: Get educated, start networking, and know your worth.