International Women’s Day 2021: four perspectives from women in our profession – part three


  • General news

10 March 2021


‘Equality of opportunity is exactly what it means: let’s provide opportunities for all. After all, FM is special because there is a place for everyone, regardless of their background and gender.’

To mark International Women’s Day this week, we interviewed four prominent professionals about their experiences of working in workplace and facilities management as women: Jemma Williams, Senior Director FM, JLL; Julie Kortens, Consultant, Director Group; Nikki Lathbury, Managing Director, Hexagon Group/Hexagon FM; and Simone Fenton-Jarvis, Workplace Consultancy Director, Ricoh UK.

We have released the interviews in three parts: part one was released on Monday; part two was published yesterday; now you are reading the third and final chapter of their fascinating insights.

Today’s focus is how IWFM and the profession can improve opportunities for women, the role male business leaders can play in the battle for equality, and advice for young women thinking of entering the WFM profession.

Q1: What can IWFM and the wider profession do to improve opportunities for women?

Jemma: ‘I don't believe this is such an easy question to answer when other diversity elements will impact women, such as race, disability, sexuality, etc. It would be good to see IWFM seeking answers from their members that may fall into this one, two or all categories and listen to those voices to see what improvements are required to enable better opportunities for women.’

Julie: ‘It is important to continue to provide and promote female role models to students and others wishing to pursue a career in FM. Nothing is more powerful than new entrants hearing stories of women who have been successful, bearing in mind, of course, that “success” means so many different things to so many different people. Not everyone wants to be the CEO of a multinational organisation; for some, earning a living wage and supporting their family is an ambition that should be celebrated. IWFM already provides guidance and support through career days and visits to schools and colleges. These are important, as is their support of apprenticeships and continuing education.

Nikki: ‘Help with white papers around the benefits of gender balanced boards and shine a light on the companies which don’t have gender balance.’

Simone: ‘Educate about the challenges that people experience and the unconscious bias that exists. Support women to empower themselves and other women, and support men to empower women and drive equal opportunities.’

Q2: What role can male business leaders play in the battle for equality?

Jemma: ‘Mentorship is a great tool that both male and female business leader can play a part in. I also feel reverse mentoring is good – where female colleagues can mentor male colleagues and give them insight into being female in a male-dominated industry.’

Julie: ‘Personally, I don’t like the phrase “battle for equality”. We should be celebrating how far we have all come. When I joined the profession, it was male dominated and, without the support of so many male colleagues, many of us wouldn’t have succeeded in our own careers. Equality of opportunity is exactly what it means: let’s provide opportunities for all. After all, FM is special because there is a place for everyone, regardless of their background and gender. There are many male business leaders who already do a great deal to promote and support women, with some providing invaluable mentoring and coaching to those within their teams and throughout the industry.’

Nikki: ‘They can review what they are trying to achieve when writing job specifications. If that person isn’t going to pick up the tools and maintain that plant or draw designs, do they really need to be technically qualified or do they need an understanding and a great team where there are technical experts underneath?’

Simone: ‘Call out bad behaviour, help women battle confidence challenges by pushing them to apply for roles, ensure equal opportunities and educate on unconscious bias.’

Q3: What advice would you give young women thinking of entering the workplace and facilities management profession?

Jemma: ‘WFM is a large industry and is not just about Hard or Soft services – it's much more extensive. I would probably let them know about MAC, Sourcing, Built Environment and technologies, different methodologies like Vested or Lean Six, and allow them to view 360 degrees of the opportunities within WFM.’

Julie: ‘Go for it! I have loved every single day of my career in FM. It is rewarding and at times very challenging, but it is a profession to be proud of. During the pandemic, the general public have really understood that we are “key workers” and that we have an essential role to play in supporting the economy and society. Our organisations recognise our contribution and the future looks good!’

Nikki: ‘Come and join us, network as much as you can, read and listen to as much information as you can and get yourself a mentor or tribe who will help encourage you or spur you on. You need that network of cheerleaders around you who have your back, that you can trust.’

Simone: ‘Believe in yourself and just be you!’

What a wonderful sentiment to finish on. Thank you very much to Jemma, Julie, Nikki and Simone for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us.

If you would like to join Women in FM, please visit the group page for more information.