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


  • General news

09 March 2021


‘I have always worked in male orientated sectors. It’s not enough that you can match them, you have to go the extra mile.’

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 are releasing the interviews in three parts: part one was released yesterday; you are reading part two right now; and part three will be released tomorrow.

Across the series of articles, you will read their thoughts and experiences around the opportunities and challenges for women in our profession, issues of equality, and what more can be done to ensure a level playing field for all.

Today’s focus, however, is on why they chose workplace and facilities management as a career, whether they are judged on the same terms as men, and the strength of women’s voices in the industry.

Q1: In the past, FM was an industry with few female role models. Despite this, what made you choose this career?

Jemma: ‘It wasn't a chosen vocation – I had my own business in Bishop's Stortford, and when I closed the shop and sold the part of the company after having my son, I was asked by one of my clients if I wanted to sell Janitorial Products. Unfortunately, they were disorganised and lacked the operational business acumen to scale. So, I brought my business acumen, connections and technology (CAFM) to their business and subsequently scaled them from a small cleaning company to a Soft FM provider – plugging all tier two suppliers alongside business opportunities within aviation and government contracts. I was the only British Black female that held a senior management position as Head of Operations. Our field teams were mixed, female and male, with a large African contingency within the cleaning teams.’

Julie: ‘My chosen career was HR and I spent several years advising and supporting organisations in that capacity. However, when I was given the choice of continuing as an advisor or setting up a new department and leading a core team, I jumped at the chance. Not only did it give me the opportunity to design a function from scratch, it also helped me to develop personally and professionally. In those days the department was called “Office and Building Services” and for me it was the best career decision I could have made and I never looked back.’

Nikki: ‘I am a natural, service driven person. I like to enhance people’s experience and this made it a great option for me. I liked the construction sector, which I used to work in, but I loved FM when it found it. It’s full of nice people.’

Simone: I accidently ended up in FM but once I experienced the challenge and variety there was no going back!

Q2: Do you feel you have had to work harder than your male counterparts to achieve success?

Jemma: ‘As a person of colour, I've felt I've had to work harder than all my peers, regardless of my gender. I have found that some of my male counterparts I’ve worked with have been intimated by my mindset, level of skill, the ease of building relationships with stakeholders, and teams who are on the ground, that I think outside of the box and can provide a solution quickly and execute with ease.’

Julie: ‘When I joined Facilities Management all those years ago, it was indeed a male dominated industry, and the natural career path for FMs was via hard services. There weren’t many of us who had a people/soft-services background at that time, but things have changed significantly over the past 20 or so years. I worked harder than some and perhaps less hard than others. However, I was fortunate enough to work at Channel 4 where diversity and inclusion has and always will be a fundamental and core value, so people were appointed according to ability and I was supported at every point of my career. However, the fact that I was a female and part of the senior leadership team at Channel 4 gave me the privilege of being a role model to women across our industry. Put simply, my view is that women are able, capable and well suited to a career in FM.’

Nikki: ‘Absolutely. I have always worked in male orientated sectors. It’s not enough that you can match them, you have to go the extra mile. It’s always in the back of bosses heads. Well, she’s at that age where she’s going to go off and have kids. As a result, I put that off and left it to the point where I was no longer able to have kids. So don’t put it off.’

Simone: ‘Working hard is just my nature, so I’ve never consciously made that decision. But I have been conscious of the perceptions and have really pushed myself to learn technical information and get my hands dirty, which I do believe has massively benefitted me. I have definitely had to fight for equal pay.’

Q3: Do you think that women have a strong enough voice in the WFM profession?

Jemma: Over the past three years, there has been an emergence of women in strategic leadership roles, which has been inspiring to see, but we still have some way to go. In the role I’m currently in, my manager, AnnMarie Sutton (OPEX EMEA Sourcing Director), and her manager, Alejandra Echverry (Global Sourcing Director), are women which is quite refreshing. I’ve always wanted to work for women in leadership who empower their teams to achieve their ambitions. Both of my managers are strong female leads and this has been a positive experience for me, given that when I’ve had a male managers at other companies, they have not provided the same insights or exposure as I have with these two female managers.’

Julie: ‘My view is that the voice that shouts loudest isn’t always the one we should heed. I think it is important to lead by example and to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Leadership, professionalism and integrity are the values that we should all embrace and there are some amazing female role models in our industry. Balance is important, however, and the trade press and other social platforms play an important part in ensuring that voices from all backgrounds, cultures, creeds and genders have an equal voice.’

Nikki: ‘No, I don’t think we do. That’s why I have put so much effort into WIFM (IWFM Community group Women in FM). Look at the board pictures of all the FM service providers to see that there are very few female faces there. We still have so far to go.

Simone: ‘It’s getting better and there’s much more visibility. The WIFM group do a fantastic job at raising the profile, but I guess there’s always more we can do. I’d challenge anybody reading this to be brave and get stuck in with raising their profile; if little old introverted me can do it, anybody can!’

The third and final part of these interviews will be available tomorrow, Wednesday 10 March.