Even as we enter the third decade of this century, facilities management remains a male-dominated profession. Recent research from i-FM revealed that half of FM businesses in the UK have no female representation at all at board level, while a report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that despite women beginning their careers on a par with men, by the time they reach the 46-55 age bracket they earn £13,000 less than their male peers.
It’s also patently obvious that this lack of gender diversity needs to be challenged, not only for ethical reasons but also because it makes good business sense. Sodexo’s Gender Balance Study showed that management teams with a 40-60 per cent gender split in either direction were more effective across a number of areas. Specifically, they demonstrated improved performance in terms of profit, employee engagement, health and safety and client retention.
The success of CI Projects (CIP), a boutique consultancy working within the FM sector, bears this out. The female-led consultancy comprises a workforce of over 80 per cent women, working across multiple FM organisations such as Bouygues, Interserve, Gov Facility Services and the NHS.
Kiran Kachela first entered the FM industry as a helpdesk operator, “taking calls about broken toilets and ceiling tiles”. Her director recognised her flair for problem solving
and gave her the opportunity to develop her career in the field of business improvement. Within the space of a few years she was Head of Business Improvement for a large FTSE-listed FM company, leading large, complex, business-wide change projects.
Her strong interest in business efficiency led to Black Belt certification in Lean Six Sigma, an evidence-based, data-driven approach to tackling common business challenges and helping organisations to progress by eliminating wasteful practices and improving the efficiency of processes. After giving birth to her second child, she decided to set up her own business in 2012.
She explains: “I wanted to embrace a new challenge and strike the right work-life balance. I’ve always had a deep passion for driving continuous improvements and wanted to create a boutique consultancy that provides an alternative to overtly generic, high-cost approaches to solving business challenges.
“It was never our intention to have a predominantly female team. We do have males working on projects, but for us the key has always been about offering flexible working and a good work-life balance, which is important to me as a mother of two. Naturally, the reality is it attracts women who are keen to develop their careers in a supportive environment. It’s an agenda I’m really proud to support.”
She adds: “We all bring something different to the table. We are not a consultancy who places just one person into a project, as we all have different skill sets and, depending on what solution that client needs, it could be one of us or the whole team that offers the solution.”
The team is drawn from a broad range of backgrounds, including change management, HR, digital/IT and FM project management. In this way they are able to respond to a wide range of client needs, whether efficiency or productivity issues due to outmoded target operating models or processes that no longer fit the organisation’s vision and need to be updated.
According to Kachela, there are plenty of theories and models in the marketplace that claim to be the best approach to change management, but she believes that no one-size solution fits all. She favours a hybrid approach to change management, leveraging different theories and experiences and applying them to the specific needs of clients and their projects.
“We are not consultants who come in, implement a short-term fix and walk away,” she says. “We’re all about sustainable solutions, and part of our delivery is training, mentoring and upskilling the people we work with. This is why we get called in by anyone from CEOs to operational directors who are driving certain functions and need our support.
“We’re often asked to lead complex change projects on behalf of our clients because they recognise the emphasis we put on engaging their people in the process, whether it’s a workplace redesign and transformation or the implementation of a new system. We also help with the tailoring of training, as without the full engagement of your team no change can be successful.”
Business Change Manager Oge Zogie-Odigie concurs. “I’ve done some work in HR, in particular learning and development, and that’s been quite useful because you’ve got to learn to carry people along with any big changes and help them understand how they can translate that into their work. Our job is not about persuading people to make changes – not because their manager says that they’ve got to do so, but because it’s something which is going to add value to what they’re doing.
“It’s vitally important to get buy-in across the board. You’ll often come across some who say ‘but we’ve always done it this way’, and it’s our job to explain the benefits they will get if they try it another way. We will often bring people together to say, ‘what does good look like and what can be done better?’ In this way we are challenging the status quo, and that means gaining buy-in from everyone within the client organisation, from operatives to senior management.”
Adds Olivia Chalmers, Business Change Manager: “Many leaders find implementing change overwhelming. Leading by example and being fully transparent is one of the best ways to begin the movement of change.”