Just like many other industries such as utilities, construction, mining and various trades, facility management is a maledominated industry. In fact, it may be even more lopsided than many other male-dominated fields. But that’s slowly starting to change, as a growing number of women are beginning careers as facilities managers. It’s a welcome change, and one that’s likely to improve the quality of life in many facilities. While organisations realise the positive attributes that women can bring to the table and want to enhance their gender diversity at all levels, there is an extremely small talent pool from which they can draw qualified candidates. The key here is to have more best practices in place to successfully recruit and retain this valuable talent resource. Megha S Anthony speaks to 4 key women in the industry, who believe that diversity is important, especially in facilities management because it’s a field that is, at its core, about people.
JENNIFER PELTENBURG, FM DIRECTOR- UAE, KHANSAHEB FACILITIES MANAGEMENT
This is a topic close to my heart. When it comes to gender balance in the Middle East FM industry, there was a very prominent gap 10 years ago when I came to the region. But I think it has decreased quite a bit since then. However, it is not 'balanced' yet. In my opinion, women are still perceived as incompetent to handle FM contracts from a technical perspective in senior operational roles. I believe in leading from the front and I am proud to say that Khansaheb FM now has more than 20 resident female technicians and we are continuing to grow. We also have a team of young Emirati women training and working with us and I hope this inspires more women to take on technical and commercial roles in FM.
Generally speaking, women tend to look at the bigger picture better than men. Women bring better leadership to the table than men strictly because men, who are normally hired in those roles, are generally engineers and not necessarily leaders. Also, women tend to be more empathetic with staff and clients, put themselves in other person’s shoes to come up with solutions that solve the problem directly. My approach is to recruit the right people with the right skill sets.
If they are women, it's great. But that’s not what I focus my recruitment initiatives on. Good leadership, good technical capabilities, good communication is what I look for.
SAM EMERY, CFO, EMRILL SERVICES
While we see more women in FM than construction, as an example, the industry has more work to do when it comes to attracting females into its workforce. Certainly within operations, there are fewer female managers than in other support services departments. However, more and more companies are giving women the opportunity to start careers in facilities management. Emrill is unique in that 50 per cent of its leadership team is female. Gender equality is supported at every level of the business. Emrill is one of the few, if not the only, FM solutions providers in the UAE to have a female CFO, further demonstrating the successful shift in its culture to diversify and ensure gender balance. When I joined Emrill in November 2014, I was the first female director on the leadership team. In under five years, the number of female managers within the business has grown, and we have increasing numbers of females training for and taking roles traditionally viewed as ‘male’, such as boom lift operator, lifeguard, security guard and machine operator.
Emrill is leading the way in terms of setting policies that are more inclusionary and attractive to potential female employees. For example, Emrill’s maternity leave policy goes beyond the standard UAE Labour Law of 45 days; Emrill employees who have one-year of continuous service are entitled to 90 days’ paid leave, 90 days’ half-paid leave and a further 180 days unpaid, totalling one year. Emrill also permits flexi-time, so that juggling family commitments becomes a little easier – for mothers and fathers. Also, the medical insurance Emrill provides its employees offers comprehensive cover for both males and females, ensuring both genders have access to the very best in healthcare. Emrill does not require policies that specifically target increasing the number of women it employs. Rather, it has created a culture of openness and diversity that has naturally attracted some of the best talents in the industry – male and female.
When it comes to gender specific skill sets, I don’t think there is any one skill that women bring to the table that men otherwise don’t. What women have achieved is closing the gap – there is now no skill that men bring into the workplace that women don’t. I think that is at the heart of equality and diversity. Women do not require special treatment or dispensations. Emrill has created an environment in which women can thrive as professionals, equal to their male counterparts. We support and encourage women to have a voice in whatever field they choose and to make a change – both in their home lives and in business.
We hope that we will serve as an example to other companies in the FM and related industries by showcasing the success we have achieved through diversity.
ANDREA DEUTSCHBEIN, DIRECTOR FM – SOFT FM, EMAAR MALLS GROUP
Unfortunately, a gender balance is not visible in FM. But I think that is not a specific Middle East problem but a global one. This is probably based on the nature of the profession we are in. FM is, in the broadest sense, a very technical job and not many women take that path. Most women come to the FM industry as a "career changer" through another profession such as Housekeeping or a technical administrator. My background for example is chemical engineering. And like many other women, I have evolved on various courses. But something that I have found especially here in the Middle East is that there is great respect from the male colleagues. I have never experienced that I was treated differently due to my sex or was not taken seriously. When it comes to my approach towards recruiting more women in the industry, I believe that I am in a lucky position as my team has a majority of women. In principle, all vacancies are offered “genderfree”, open to women and men. However, not many women apply. FM often means overtime, emergency situation and flexibility. Often you can’t predict the working hours. If you have a family, it is often difficult to reconcile everything.
That being said, I believe women do bring a certain skill set to the table that cannot be ignored. Women think more strategically, they have more assertiveness and are more willing to take a risk. They decide much faster, often from the gut but based on experience. Does not sound female at all - but a woman who chooses this profession has exactly these qualities. Which is why, I would like to give a call to all women - have the courage to take on technical careers. We need you!
SARA MOMTAZ, DIRECTOR FM & COMMERCIAL, QBG
Traditionally FM is generally a male dominated industry in most parts of the world. This is stemmed from perceived engineering or technical abilities associated with FM. Having said that, FM is a relatively new industry in this region, we have been fortunate enough to encourage more a gender mix not only in terms of the technical expertise, but also from commercial and administrational perspectives. In the last five years in particular, the contribution of women is becoming evident as we have witnessed the rise of women across the industry, from senior FM management roles to senior FM engineering roles. Whether having demonstrated their business acumen abilities, or innovative technical knowledge, the gender balance is now far more equal and frequently seeing women working in FM is now much more of a norm. Today, it's more about competency rather than gender. I believe strongly in reaching out to the grass roots to fundamentally set the foundation of what exactly is FM, and expose the vast array of disciplines and skill-sets that are related to the industry. This is most effectively accomplished by working with universities. We at QBG have been running several internship programmes with universities in both the UAE & Oman, whereby we have selected a number of candidates who have displayed exceptional qualities and have enjoyed working in an industry they initially knew little about, that we have then retained as full-time employees.
When it comes to skills, women have a stronger ability to deal with conflict resolution, this has been instilled in us and is systematically part of our nature. Having this ability engraved in our DNA, we are naturally programmed as trouble-shooters and solution finders. In this sense, women are generally more practical and dedicated to solve issues than men when being faced with challenges or obstacles. Through my own personal experience, I have witness women turn around failing FM contracts into profitable business, just by purely using a patient and determined approach to find a solution, which as they say, mostly lays within the problem! Women are better at dissecting the problem into smaller components, fixing and rectifying each one of those components until the entire problem has been resolved, as opposed to men who tend to take a more holistic approach.
Moving forward, I would to see more of a focus towards educating the educators on the various types of careers associated within the FM industry, and how both men and women can navigate a prosperous career path by working in FM.