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Inclusive for all

FMJ spoke to committee members Sharon Slinger and Colin Kimber of the LGBT+ in FM network which brings together a group of individuals from organisations within the FM sector to foster inclusiveness and respect within FM

It’s been estimated that around 10 per cent of the UK workforce work in facilities management across a multitude of sectors. This equates to over 200,000 LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, +) people working in FM. Enabling people to be their authentic self at work is something which corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) programmes aim to achieve, but for LGBT+ people working within FM there is the additional challenge of often working within clients’ places of work, far from their employer’s D&I agenda, which can lead to stress and feelings of isolation.

To help address this, the LGBT+ in FM network was founded in 2016 to engage stakeholders in driving fairness, inclusion and respect for LGBT+ people working in the facilities industry. Its mission is to collaborate to make the facilities management sector the most attractive, inclusive and supportive industry for the LGBT+ community in the UK and Ireland.

Explains Founder Sharon Slinger, Director, Constructing Rainbows: “In 2016 I was Co-chair of Carillion’s LGBT network and seeing how well inter-company networks performed in other industries I did a bit of Facebook and LinkedIn stalking to see who the chairs’ were from the other networks. I knew Mitie had set one up and Sodexo the year before, so I managed to get hold of a few people and it started from there.

“The intention was to share best practice, because I don’t believe in working in siloes, but also as we grew we realised there were smaller organisations that didn’t have their own networks where LGBT+ people within them might want that supportive network, so we broadened our remit across industry.”

Adds committee member, Colin Kimber, Associate Director at Pareto Facilities Management: “It was about supporting people who worked in our industry across the board, giving them a place that they could meet, ask questions and get support. But we also recognised that we could be a source of guidance and best practice for organisations that were just starting their journey. By being a voice for the community, I think we’re starting to influence companies to publicise what they are doing to make sure this is on the agenda and it is something people get told about in induction, which is a good beginning.”

FRONT LINE REACH

According to Slinger reaching front line staff has been high up on the agenda since day one. “We didn’t want the network to be just for office workers, because the majority of industry are front line staff. We’ve found that a lot of larger firms still struggle to reach the front-line staff internally so as an external organisation we try to be there if people want to come to us.”

Getting that message across remains a challenge. “FMs often find themselves working for the client organisation, and there’s an important part to play that their employees know if they’ve any issues with discrimination they’ll stand by them and sometimes that is not emphasised enough. You are in someone else’s work culture and it comes down to client values and working together to make sure the culture has synergies between both organisations.”

One of the other areas the LGBT network is exploring is the client and procurement process. The idea is that if clients highlight more of what they require when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the supply chain will act on it to win the business.

However, it seems the FM sector still lags behind other sectors in achieving diversity.

Says Slinger: “I came across from construction where they are trying really hard. Yet FM has an easier starting point because there is already that diversity in FM but there are not enough strategies on improving on that. It accounts for a large part of this country’s workforce and impacts on a lot of people, and that’s frustrating.”

Institutes such as the IWFM says Kimber are, “well-intentioned but not fast moving”. He argues that organisations need to stop seeing D&I as a massive challenge.

“You don’t have to fix the world, you just need to be open enough for the conversations to happen. And you don’t have to have all the answers, just be prepared to listen.”

Unsurprisingly then, one of the network’s key aims is to improve the understanding of the LGBT+ community within the FM industry.

“That is the education piece”, explains Slinger, “and part of that is working in a client’s workplace and ensuring the culture is right there. We’re here to support and coach members to thrive and grow, and we know that lockdown has impacted the LGBT+ community a lot, so what we have done is set up coffee and chat sessions for people to come on Zoom and chat. They’re the supportive events and we’ve also got informative one’s for instance during the recent LGBT history month.”

SPREADING THE MESSAGE

When you look at attracting people into the FM profession, research has shown that the younger generation want to work for organisations that are inclusive, a message that the network is keen to share with organisations struggling with their D&I remit.

Explains Slinger: “Younger people want to work for organisations that look after their people and if companies don’t do that they’ll lose staff. What FM needs to do is bring people up through the ranks, and includes spotting talent on the front line. If we can get a clearer visible way of supporting people up from the ranks you’d get that diversity throughout the sector, because when you look at front line staff it’s way more diverse than management and there are some talented people who could be your next MDs.”

As the pandemic hopefully draws to a close, the network will look to organise face-to-face gatherings once again, with the plan being to encourage some of the big-name FM brands to sponsor events.

For more information: www.lgbt-in-fm.network

About Sarah OBeirne

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