Across the globe, women make up just 20 per cent of the facility management workforce. A report released in March from IFMA, “Women in FM: Trends in the Workplace,” also found that over the past decade there has been minimal change to this gender mix. Women also hold one-third of entry-level roles, but only 15 per cent of senior-level positions, which indicates they are not staying in the FM profession.
Amid the ongoing exodus of aging FMs there are actually fewer women nearing retirement than men. As skilled labour shortages remain an obstacle overall, an online discussion earlier this year gleaned perspectives from women executives on how they promote the FM industry, cultivate gender balance, and self-advocate.
Danielle J. Floyd is director of public works for the County of Delaware where she oversees the implementation of the county’s $75-million, multi-year capital improvement program for its 70 buildings, 16 parks, and trails.
After stepping into her role last year, she re-framed the workplace from “doing the absolute necessary” into a “start-up” mentality, on the brink of dynamic change. She prizes being transparent with candidates about this unstructured reality of the job, while scoping out talent across various industries. She sees more women working on the design side and fewer in construction.
“I don’t necessarily require [employees] to have significant experience in design and construction because I do think as women we have amazing transferable skills,” she noted. “Sometimes it’s about having that extra conversation—to be able to define how the work they are doing now can be transitioned to work in FM. It takes patience and seeking out in areas you might not otherwise consider.”
Of key importance is bridging women, also those in underrepresented communities, into the FM workforce. “The more we define what this space looks like, the more effective we could be,” she said.
Alishia K. Jolivette Webber, officer of facilities, maintenance and operations for the Houston Independent School District, explained how school districts are experiencing turnovers across the United States. Amid a lack of highly skilled workers and technology trades, she encourages and promotes from within her team.
“I get excited when I do see team members wanting to move up,” she said. “If I see you sitting in that position for more than two years, I’m going to ask you why and what’s your goal. We want to retain the great talent that we have, but I don’t want anybody to just sit back and be in a position for an extended period of time, not challenging yourself or learning more.”
Facility management isn’t a career path many people know about. Both women acknowledged how it requires increasingly creative recruiting tactics.
Last summer, the sustainability chief working under Floyd’s department gave college interns the chance to use social media platforms, specifically Instagram stories, as a way to promote sustainability work, including capital projects.
“If you think about the way people get that information, it is in very small snippets,” said Floyd. “No one is going to sit down and watch a 30-minute video about facilities and all the different opportunities, but they’ll watch a 20-second TikTok.”
Doing so, gave the interns an ‘out-of-the-box’ way to engage their peers and garner interest. “Once you spark interest, that can lead to lots of other conversations,” said Floyd. “It started off really small but turned out to be very effective. It was a great use of their talent.
“Thinking broader around facilities management, finding more creative ways to highlight the work so it doesn’t feel so technical and intimidating, but more personable in a way that someone can see themselves doing this. . . is definitely something I want to use moving forward,” she added.
Lively events with entertainment also bring opportunity. The annual “When I Grow Up” career expo, hosted by the Houston Independent School District’s career readiness department, gives K-12 students exposure to facilities management and skilled trades. High-school students can apply for on-the-spot summer internships in various city departments. Jolivette Webber says it’s an in-person way to refresh and reframe the idea of the profession. “We share what we do; it’s not just turning a wrench, walking or mopping; it’s planning, construction, designing and maintaining,” she said.
Compensation was a highlight of IFMA’s report, which found that women facility managers actually receive similar pay as men for entry-level and early mid-level jobs and significantly higher pay than men for more senior-level FM jobs.
A thirst for continuous learning, but also peer networking, is key, said Jolivette Webber, who holds multiple certifications as well as a Master of Business Administration degree in business management with a leadership concentration.
As far as salary goes, she said it may take time, but never stop fighting for your worth.
“I absolutely refused to compromise on the requirements that I had to take this role,” added Floyd, who previously working in the education sector. “Knowing what I was inheriting and what wasn’t happening before I got here, there was absolutely no way I would have accepted anything less than the person prior to me.”
Deciding whether to leave a comfortable role can be just as challenging as fighting for your worth in a new role. “Sometimes, the part of the profession we don’t talk enough about is knowing when you have done everything you can do and when it’s time to politely say ‘thank-you, goodbye,’” she said, adding what helps is reaching a defined level of success and making a difference you feel satisfied about.