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Where are the women?

Emma Thornton, Marketing Manager at FM Recruitment Experts – 300 North asks, is the underrepresentation of women in FM down to poor communication?

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 and needs more widespread female representation.

The lack of diversity in FM presents potential barriers to business growth, so companies have adopted a range of methods to address the communications challenges of articulating the benefits of a career in FM to women and adjusting recruitment strategies to increase applications.


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, key messaging, and engagement with all stakeholders at every stage so that nobody can fall through the cracks.” Inclusion should integral to the day-to-day, and also to the recruitment strategy, encouraging more diverse talent into FM.

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 have.

Rachel Palmer, ESG Manager at Johnsons 1871 told us: “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 encourage more women to apply? Because if they’re not applying, you can’t hire them.”


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, providing leave to support family and caring responsibilities, healthcare, and financial benefits, all of which help everyone thrive at work.


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 demonstrate 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.

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 person’s 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.”


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. 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.

Offering mentoring opportunities allows 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.”

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 and be accountable.”

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

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