Women in Facility Management Share Insights

10/04/2018 | By Sarah Kloepple

For women in facilities management, having a mentor can make a difference, according to panelists at IFMA’s World Workplace 2018 in Charlotte, NC. The panelists, all women in the field of FM, took questions on advancing careers and overcoming challenges as a woman in the industry.

Panel of Women in facilities management at the IFMA World Workplace
(Pictured left to right: Kelsey Hirsch, VP FM business development, Sodexo; Caryl Olmstead, VP of FM operations, GSK, Sodexo; Angela Johnson, VP service development – operation FM platform, Sodexo; Jennifer Tschilar, recruitment manager, Sodexo)

On the panel were representatives from Sodexo, a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services:

  • Kelsey Hirsch, vice president of FM business development
  • Angela Johnson, vice president of service development
  • Caryl Olmstead, vice president of FM operations
  • Jennifer Tschilar, recruitment manager

The group relayed tips on how women in FM can advance their careers:

Utilize a mentor: “Early in my career I had a mentor who suggested I get licenses,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t wait to be told… I volunteered. When you’re engaged, it lets others see your capabilities in organization, leadership and innovation.” Mentors can help with transitioning and with taking you to that next level.

[Related: Tips to Attract the Next Generation of Property Managers]

Don’t be afraid to speak up: “I’ve seen women speaking up more. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and be inquisitive,” Olmstead said. “I would come to them with facts. You can’t argue with facts, and it takes the emotion out of the question.”

Plan ahead: If you hope to take on a leadership position one day, look at what skills you need and develop a career path. “Schedule time with leadership to set out a strategy,” Hirsch said.

Don’t get beat down: “Nobody knows you better than you,” Hirsch added. “Don’t assume because someone is in a higher position, they know more than you or are smarter than you. Be your biggest advocate.”

Ask questions: “We don’t know it all, and that’s OK,” Olmstead said.

“I spend a lot of time talking to people who don’t know what FM is. If you have ever lived in an apartment or owned a home, you have done FM, even if it’s just calling a plumber or changing an air filter. We keep buildings alive so that the people who are living human beings can enjoy the building… When I explain it like that, they get it.” - Angela Johnson

The panel also discussed how to make the field more appealing to newcomers.

Facilities management is about providing services and experience for building occupants – although many people outside of the industry don’t know that. Instead, there’s a stigma that “we’re toilet fixers and wrench turners,” one audience member said.

[Read also: Salary Check: 5 Top Facilities Management Jobs]

“We all own it, we could be better at branding ourselves,” Olmstead said. “If you want to be known as just FM, you will be stuck in that box. If you want to be known to provide services and experiences for occupants, you will be in your own box.”

Johnson added, “I spend a lot of time talking to people who don’t know what FM is. If you have ever lived in an apartment or owned a home, you have done FM, even if it’s just calling a plumber or changing an air filter. We keep buildings alive so that the people who are living human beings can enjoy the building… When I explain it like that, they get it.”


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