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Trailblazing Women in Facilities Management Roles

Jun 5, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

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Three experienced women in facility management discuss the challenges of leading in a male-dominated field

Facilities management is a diverse and dynamic field – encompassing everything from custodial services to skilled trades. To date, the field is still largely dominated by men, and according to the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), women make up only 25 percent of the facilities management workforce. While men may hold the majority of positions within the industry, an increasing number of women are discovering a passion for facilities and pursuing opportunities within the field. As they grow enter facilities management, successful women in the field reset expectations, advocate for themselves, and cultivate cultures that encourage other women to jump into the industry, too.

What follows is a profile of and conversation between three leading women facility experts about their challenges as women in a male-dominated field. These three women may not fit the mold of what is expected. That’s because there are inherent biases in male dominated industries – but they also know how to hold their own, lead strong and change expectations for themselves and other women in the field.

Isabel Wormington began in the facilities industry after a seven-year career in retail. She built her knowledge of the facilities industry from the ground up — and today, she is an operations manager for SSC Services for Education’s largest higher education partnership. She shared that one of her biggest obstacles isn’t learning the industry but breaking the stereotypes.

“The job itself isn’t the hardest part, it’s resetting an expectation. Men walk into rooms, and they don’t have to worry about setting the tone, being addressed last, or being mistaken for an intern or secretary. As female leaders in facilities, we must be prepared to walk into rooms where nobody expects us to lead and knock it out of the park every single time, to change expectations.”

Nickie Dwyer began her career in facilities as an executive administrative assistant and brand new to the industry. Today, she is the training and development manager for SSC, and has seen the number women pursuing facilities careers increase drastically in a short time. She shared that in her experience, expectations are shifting faster than many expect.

“I’ve had a front row seat to witnessing women find facilities and fall in love with it. We’re coming up on our two-year anniversary for in-person manager trainings at SSC, and in every single class, it’s almost an even male-to-female ratio. Very few women start their career and say, ‘I want to be a facilities manager,’ but it’s such an exciting industry with great opportunities.”

She also shared that community culture and growth opportunities are two of the largest factors that women are seeking in the industry.

“Women, especially, are looking for companies that invest in their people through paid trainings, development opportunities and complete onboarding programs. These opportunities bridge any knowledge gap that may make women feel apprehensive.”

Chakakhan Watson started with SSC in 2005 as a frontline associate. Over the years, she has capitalized on every growth opportunity available and now is an operations manager for one of SSC’s largest K-12 accounts. She recalls that the biggest initial challenge in entering a male-dominated industry was finding confidence to dive in.

“When you are stepping into a new industry, it’s easy to be afraid, but you have to believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, get really good at listening, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes—they’re going to happen. But if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody is going to believe in you.”

Watson credits mentorship and a network of supportive colleagues as contributing factors to her growth and development.

“I’ve been very lucky working in facilities. I have had great managers and supervisors over me, who never let me slack off or face anything alone. I’ve surrounded myself with mentors and leaders, and my experience in this industry all comes back to the people who support me and surround me—without their support, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

Identifying Companies that Advocate for Women in Facilities

Recognizing that company culture and growth opportunities play a key factor in confidence when entering the industry, Dwyer and Wormington have key advice for other women to help them seek out supportive companies:

Dwyer: “Do your research and know your worth. It’s one thing for a company to say they stand behind developing women, but you might find that they don’t have a single woman on their leadership team.

Look at what opportunities a company offers, and if they are willing to talk about career development, professional development, and career pathing. That’s a good sign that they are looking into the future. If they don’t have tangible plans or paths, they are realistically just looking at the present, and as a woman looking to lead in the industry, you want to know that the company has a plan for where they are going, and where they are taking their team.”

Wormington: “Look for a company that has leadership that is ready to really listen, collaborate and grow.  You can feel it [when a company and colleagues support women in facilities]. I’ve worked in many places; I’ve found great people everywhere that I have worked. There’s just something special about the dynamic of a supportive workplace – it’s genuine and transparent.”

Watson: “Find a company that offers the practical tools you need to learn. We have MyLMS, which is one of the best programs out there because they have classes and programs that you can take anywhere, any time to stay up to date. Also prioritize working somewhere that you feel comfortable talking to different leaders and asking for advice and perspective.”

In the end, it’s about facing the challenge and diving in headfirst, according to Wormington:

“We need you here in the room. You can learn about HVAC, plumbing, facilities, and construction. Your viewpoints and life experiences cannot be taught. Those are things we need. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Instead, be empowered by what you can contribute already. And start—just reach out and start. It’s a fun field, and it isn’t going anywhere.”

By Isabel Wormington, Nickie Dwyer, and Chakakhan Watson, Contributing Writers

Isabel Wormington is Operations Manager of SSC Services. Nickie Dwyer is Training & Development Manager, and Chakakhan Watson is Unit Director.

The post "Trailblazing Women in Facilities Management Roles" appeared first on Building Operating & Management

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