The world looks drastically different than it did in 1911, the first year International Women’s Day was celebrated, but there’s still a long way to go for women to achieve equality in the workplace – including in facility management.
Women in facilities fields often find themselves facing unique challenges, including achieving a sensible work-life balance, self-promoting, growing as a professional in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and in some workplaces, simply obtaining basic respect as a member of the team.
#PressforProgress, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day celebration, underscores both the achievements women have made and the strides yet to be made toward true gender parity. For women in building-adjacent fields, pressing for progress means conquering the industry’s unique hurdles and establishing a strong presence. Emphasizing the pillars of empowerment, career growth, mentorship and inspiration is driving needed change.
Addressing the Gender Imbalance
Because fields like facilities management and roofing are traditionally male-dominated, it can be tough for women to break into these industries and to be taken seriously as professionals once they get there. That’s why supporting each other is so important, explains Karen Edwards, President and Owner of Casimir Group and Communications Committee Chair for National Women in Roofing (NWIR), an advocacy group that has grown to nearly 1,000 members since its founding in 2016.
“Over the years, you go to the same trade shows and attend the same events, and you see the same people and make friends. I have some very close women friends in the industry, and the more we got to know each other, the more we found that we were facing a lot of the same issues,” Edwards says. “One is that being a woman in a predominately male-dominated industry led to some unique challenges that we would talk about, not to mention other things like balancing your family and your career. For example, it’s acceptable for men to travel on business trips and their needs tend to come first. How do we as women find that same balance and support each other?”
That support takes many forms, from mentoring someone who’s new to the field to simply being visible. Fellow professionals who know the industry can help in ways family and friends can’t, says Meredith Thatcher, Founder of Thatcher Workplace Consulting, an IFMA Fellow and leader of the “High Heels and Hard Hats” panel at IFMA’s annual World Workplace expo.
“Before the panel started, I was in Houston doing some teaching and every single woman on those courses came to me privately and said, ‘Where do I get help as a woman in this business? Where can I go for help?’” Thatcher says. “Sometimes it was a specific issue – it could be that they were looking for a mentor or help on career directions or just how to deal with issues that men don’t understand, whether that’s safety or confidence or applying for jobs. Sometimes it was ‘How do I deal with my boss?’ or ‘I have male employees who don’t want to accept the fact that I’m the boss.’”
How to Advocate for Women in the Workplace
Moving past existing divisions toward a world where all facilities professionals are evaluated on their merits rather than their gender will require a concerted effort to change at both the individual level and the industry level. Advocacy groups like National Women in Roofing play a crucial role, and manufacturers are starting to embrace their importance too – GAF, for example, is a founding sponsor of NWIR and paid for the first year of membership to attendees of a women’s luncheon at one of its expos, says Shari Carlozzi, National Sales Manager for Hapco Inc.’s roofing division and Chair of NWIR.
“Even just having an event like International Women’s Day tells the stories and accomplishments of other women. It’s uplifting and empowering because a woman might hear that story of success and think, ‘Wow, that’s a person just like me,’” adds Edwards. “The more you talk about your achievements, the more it empowers other women to think they could do that too.”
While organizational work slowly changes the tone of the conversation, it’s vital that individual professionals forge their own paths by advocating for themselves at work. This time-honored advice can make that journey a little easier.
- 1) Project confidence. “We have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts and we’re challenged a lot more because of our gender,” Carlozzi says. “We want to be taken seriously and confidence plays a huge role in that.”
- 2) Stick together. “As women, we need to empower each other and not beat each other down. We should support each other’s growth,” Edwards says. “That has stuck with me over the last few years.”
- 3) Find your niche. “Do what you love and enjoy doing it,” Edwards adds. “Learn as much as you can and give as much as you can.” This advice extends even to learning opportunities that aren’t directly related to your field, Thatcher adds: “Take every single training opportunity offered to you, even if you don’t see how it connects to what you need immediately. There might be one or two things that come out of it that could help you on a project down the road. That adds a huge amount to your knowledge base, especially in facilities, where you really have to be a generalist.”