This year’s Women in FM ‘Your journey’ conference at the glamorous ITV studios in London’s South Bank raised the bar with some excellent inspirational talks from key speakers Claire Smith, Stella Creasy and Anne Lennox-Smith
In the morning session, outgoing chair Debra Ward, mentoring manager Lucy Jeynes and Elaine Hake from domestic violence charity Refuge welcomed over 150 professional women and men attendees to the BIFM special interest group event, and introduced the theme of women’s journeys in facilities management by discussing the various ‘Bumps in your journey’ along the FM career path. Participants were supplied with a generous ITV goodie bag and asked to contribute to a raffle for Refuge.
Natalie Reynolds, founder of advantage SPRING, spoke on ‘Negotiating your journey’, commenting that negotiation requires different approaches for different situations. She was followed by Louise Webster, who founded Beyond the School Run to help women enter the workplace as a whole, who continued the journey theme by speaking on the impact of motherhood on careers and the adjustments needed after having kids. Rounding off, Lynette Allen, self-help author and founder of Her Invitation, spoke of her own personal journey to becoming a successful businesswoman and shared tips for assertiveness in going for the things you want.
After a fantastic lunch provided by ITV’s in-house catering team, Larch Consulting founder and BIFM Fellow Lucy Jeynes presented eye-opening 2011 US documentary ‘Miss Representation’, which used a combination of media clips, statistics, and interviews with teenage girls and influential women such as Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric and Gloria Steinem to deliver a hard-hitting message about how women are objectified by the mainstream media, which ultimately contributes to women being underrepresented in positions of power. This harms the younger generation of women by perpetuating the idea that no matter how smart and accomplished they are, they are still being measured by how physically alluring they are to men. The film issued call-outs to action to champion positive female role models and for women to work together to change perceptions.
A panel with IFM managing director David Emanuel, BIFM 2013 award-winners Anne Lennox-Martin (Profound Impact) and Julie Kortens (FM of the year) discussed how and why feminism had failed, and looked at ways to redress the balance. Lennox-Martin, a lifelong feminist, acknowledged that feminism had become anti-men rather than getting men on board. She also commented that FM is not about the buildings but about the people in them, which is why women did particularly well in FM. Kortens exhorted the crowd to ‘stay restless until we see change’.
Next, Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, spoke on the politics of the journey, reporting that her own had been fraught with rape and death threats. Quoting a Chinese proverb that says ‘women hold up half the sky’, she noted that instead of a 50:50 representation across society, there had only been a 4% increase in women in government in the past 15 years, and a remaining 19% pay gap, so the real ratio remained stagnant at 20:80, with the minor percentage of female board members in top companies signifying tokenism. Creasy urged women to create a space where they can work together and support each other for change, and added that she is working to change the debate on childcare to being about parenting rather than about women.
The last speaker was venerable foreign services senior official Claire Smith, whose own experiences of the ‘Bumps on the journey’ very effectively conveyed the kind of tempered steel required to make it as a woman in the diplomatic foreign service at a time when there were no role models or mentors, as she is now to a younger generation of women. She described her eventful career and passed on several sage suggestions: trust your instincts when being patronised; do something rather than moan about it; be determined and ‘bloody-minded’ to the point of obstinacy; learn to say ‘No’ and mean it, also to say ‘Why not?’ – realise that you define yourself in what you choose to say about you; don’t be too reasonable; keep going with qualifications; ask for help when necessary, but choose wisely; and look outside the UK – you may learn much more from being abroad.
After the raffle for Refuge, the key takeaways from the day for female FMs were summarised by the speakers as learn to negotiate for you; there is life after kids; ask for what you want; take little steps to do what you can do to collaborate; ‘just watch me!’; and stop playing small. Participants continued networking over wine and canapes, relishing the chance to savour a brilliant and inspiring day.
Event review by Jane Cahane