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News & opinion

23 AUG 2018

FM must champion equality for all

Lucy Jeynes FRICS is Managing Director of Larch Consulting, an independent FM strategy consultancy practice that provides innovation and implementation programmes across the UK and the Middle East.

Lucy is a highly experienced infrastructure services expert, with a reputation built on solving facilities management challenges using innovative solutions. Voted a Pioneer of FM and one of the 20 Most Influential Women in FM, Lucy is a Fellow of the RICS and a founder board member of the new IFMA UK Chapter

Here Lucy explains how FM needs to reinvent itself in order to appeal to new generations of potential FM professionals.

How did you begin your career in FM?

I started in FM through a procurement route in about 1990. I was working for the Crown Agents, which entered into a joint venture to start a facilities management company. After about five years, a colleague and I decided to set up Larch because we spotted an opportunity. Outsourcing was just beginning to take off in the UK: there was a lot of confusion in the market and people needed a reliable source of sound advice. Our experience running outsourced services for Crown Agents put us in a good position and we set up Larch Consulting to provide independent guidance to the industry.

Even now, more than 20 years on, there is strong demand for independent advice that doesn’t come from a source that has a vested interest in selling any other services.

What challenges are women facing in FM?

In terms of both gender and race, FM is very diverse. There are plenty of women working at operational level for example, as cleaners, catering assistants and security guards. But that diversity is not found at the top – there is very little female participation in higher management in FM.

This is changing slowly, but much more needs to be done to ease the path of women wanting to move up the management ladder. I think our industry is doing an excellent job of recruiting women at lower levels, but it is critical that we continue to engage with them as they aspire to take up more senior positions. If you look at those taking their APC, the gender split is fairly even. That equality needs to continue to be represented as they continue their careers. Currently, the industry is both failing to retain and recruit women at higher management levels, and that needs to change.

How does this need to be addressed?

Facilities Management is a really rewarding career and accessible to anyone who enjoys a lively, busy work environment and wants to get things done.  It’s not just engineering any more, which used to be a huge barrier for women because the UK has the worst record in Europe for training female engineers. Now that there is so much more emphasis on human relationships, soft services management, team working and productivity, FM is no longer reliant on what traditionally used to be fairly gender specific skills.

However, facilities managers working at an operational level can rarely work flexible hours or from home. They need to be in their facility. Very often a facilities manager will need to get in early to make sure everything is ready for when the rest of the workforce arrives, and they need to stay late to finish any ongoing works, or hand over to a night shift. Even when they do reach home they will almost certainly be on emergency call-out if there are floods, break-ins or power outages and so on. People just don’t work a short day, or short week in FM.

Unfortunately, this kind of career just isn’t conducive to happy family life, so it is no surprise that women leave the profession when they are starting families. Of course, parenting isn’t just an issue for women, it is an issue for parents. Millennials have very different expectations of the workplace, so this issue is going to affect both men and women in the very near future.

In fact, I believe that employers now need to be much more supportive of men who want to take an active part in parenting, rather than just making the assumption that this is the woman’s role. Companies that make men feel it is perfectly acceptable to take time out to attend their kid’s school plays or dance competitions should be applauded, because they are encouraging parents to either look after their children mutually or share the responsibility. This will open up career prospects for women in disciplines such as FM, where flexible working is difficult to implement.

Isn’t flexible working a prerequisite these days?

This is a challenge for both men and women. People are now regarding their lives as a holistic, connected journey. Yes, they want to make a difference at work, but they also want to make a difference to their families and friends too. The best companies will probably still be able to employ the best people, but those people will tend to be intelligent and multi-dimensional. Precisely the kind of people who don’t want to spend 80-plus hours sat behind a desk every week. The challenge is keeping these people satisfied and rewarded.

Certainly, our industry is moving away from an emphasis on managing assets and towards supporting people. I now see our role as helping companies to recruit and retain the best people by providing them with workplaces and workspaces where they can excel. Where they can produce work they are proud of. An environment where they will want to stay, regardless of their gender or background.

If we take professional services companies as an example – let’s say a law firm. Lawyers entering the profession will have benefitted from the same training and, looking ahead, they can expect a similar workload and a similar salary whatever firm they choose to work for. What differentiates one employer from the next for them will be culture and workplace. This is where FM can really make its mark.