Home / Career Development / Is the underrepresentation of women in FM down to poor communication?

Is the underrepresentation of women in FM down to poor communication?

By Emma Thornton, Marketing Manager at 300 North

Women make up around 21 per cent of the FM workforce according to an IFMA survey. An IWFM survey gives a more charitable estimate for the UK sector, with a 34/66 percentage split of women to men. Regardless of the exact numbers, it is agreed that the sector is male dominated. In areas like electrical engineering and security there is even greater disparity – women make up just one per cent of electricians and 11 per cent of frontline security personnel.

Therefore, it’s generally agreed that the sector needs more widespread female representation. The lack of diversity in FM presents potential barriers to business growth, and could encourage negative workplace behaviours that result in an unwelcoming culture that can alienate other employees, leaving teams unable to recruit.

There are countless methods being used across the FM sector to address the communications challenges of raising the profile of FM to external audiences, articulating the benefits of a career in FM to women, and adjusting recruitment strategies to increase the attractiveness of FM businesses to women. The aim should always be to share knowledge and experience to bring positive change to FM and to the people passionate about and working in it.

Senior Leadership

A major factor in the success of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) programmes is having the backing from the board and C-Suite. Many businesses have this buy-in but the message isn’t always filtering down from that level to operational managers.

“It’s really important that organisations have a very strong value proposition that is equitable and fully inclusive at its core,” says Clair Bush, Chief Marketing Officer at The Recruitment Network. “Companies should look to write and support a framework with touchpoints that include open dialogue, space for challenges, key messaging, and engagement with all stakeholders at every stage so that nobody can fall through the cracks.” Inclusion should be an integral part of the day-to-day, and also of the recruitment strategy, encouraging more diverse talent into the business.

Secondarily, companies should consider whether their employer brand is appealing to women. One way to improve appeal is to establish progressive gender parity policies which show a serious intent towards rectifying the gender disparity, something many leading FM companies already have in place.

At Johnsons 1871, ESG Manager Rachel Palmer started to ask clients and suppliers how they support women in their business. “Businesses need to start asking themselves, their clients and suppliers how they are supporting women. Not aggressively, or judgmentally, but to start the conversation. If you haven’t got as many women as men in your business, how do you push for it? How do you encourage women to apply? Because if they’re not applying, you can’t hire them.”

Targeted Recruitment Campaigns

FM organisations can do more to promote themselves to potential workforces outside of the sector. Using targeted recruitment campaigns, companies can engage publicly with a wider audience to whom they can advertise their services, employer brand and value proposition.

This can be done through publicising their benefits programmes. Benefits that best support women include flexible working arrangements (hybrid working, remote working and flexibility around core office hours), providing different types of leave to support family and caring responsibilities, healthcare and financial benefits, all of which help everyone thrive at work.

Good, employee-led benefits programmes are not just for women, they are key in retaining a diverse workforce. They have also become vital to hiring. When considering multiple job opportunities, people are using benefits as a differentiator between the companies.

School Advocacy

Given that FM is male-dominated, women can be fantastic vocal advocates for FM in schools and colleges, encouraging girls into FM career paths. This approach gives young people the chance to learn about the sector from women who can show them the diversity of roles on offer. Other approaches include targeted, in-house educational programmes such as Equans’ Girls Believe Academy, an award-winning STEM outreach programme giving educational opportunities to girls in technology and engineering. It is also crucial to showcase women in leadership roles to people of school age, as it broadens their idea of what opportunities are available.

Research indicates that exposure to successful women in leadership positions can significantly influence career choices. “Speaking to just one inspiring role model, in a career that you may not otherwise know existed, can completely alter and fast track a young persons career in a positive way,” says Tamsin Dewhurst, CEO & Founder at Uptree. “We need more professional women exploring their careers with young people in schools, especially those in STEM careers. At Uptree we work with our long-standing partners Arm to run careers education outreach programs in local communities and connect young women with STEM work experience so that they can build professional networks to go onto exciting careers.”

Press Coverage

It is also incumbent upon the press in FM to give women a space to share their stories and experiences. They can do this through interviews and case studies with professionals from across the sector. This approach also helps to showcase the breadth of possible roles to other professionals.

Unconscious Bias

Gender stereotyping will have played a part in women not seeing themselves in FM careers, so tackling unconscious bias in the recruitment and promotion processes is imperative to any business serious about achieving gender parity. In general, businesses can do more to help women navigate perceived barriers of childcare and menopause.

FM is a sector where taking career breaks, sidestepping into different roles, or moving contracts can be easier than in other markets and facilitating this can really help working women.

Another way of tackling bias is to offer mentoring opportunities, allowing women to provide education and career guidance to other employees. “We have a handful of female employees who have been with Johnsons a long time – since the business was much smaller, and they have offered to become mentors to other women in the industry,” says Palmer.

“It’s helped open the conversation for these women who are newer to FM to ask questions. It’s given them the confidence to present their ideas knowing they’re not going to get dismissed, that actually male managers and men on the board want to hear from them.”

This is vital in allowing women in the industry to feel supported and have a peer network they can relate to and communicate with. It also gives male professionals the chance to see things from a different perspective and has the possibility to facilitate innovation through diverse thought and challenges to norms or prescriptive ways of thinking.

As Shahid Bashir, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Equans UK & Ireland outlines: “Achieving gender parity in FM organisations requires a holistic approach to enable female employees to overcome barriers at key stages of the talent journey, including both structural and behavioural challenges, whilst raising awareness for all employees on how to shape an inclusive culture. These interventions and nudges must be backed by senior leadership support, accountability and be steered by the perspectives and experiences of women in the business, which we do through our WOMEN Together network.”

Fundamentally, a person’s ability to succeed professionally is unrelated to their gender. It is about their aptitude, insight, and skills, and employers providing equitable opportunities for success for all employees.

About Sarah OBeirne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *