• Women in FM and in the workplace

      Every spring for the last three years, we’ve carried out a piece of high-level research to underpin the Mitie Executive Relationship Programme themes for the coming year. In 2013 and 2014 we interviewed large groups of strategy makers across our client and prospect base, and the results yielded fascinating insights into change drivers and the future direction of the Facilities Management industry.

      This year Mitie decided to look at things through the opposite end of the telescope – from the perspective of the people who work in the buildings that we all strive to present in their best light. So we commissioned a business process consulting firm to carry out extensive research interviewing 2,500 people. This week I’ve been reviewing the research results, which covered a wide range of subjects around productivity, data, wellbeing, and workplace change. I have to say, some of them are fascinating.

      We’re presenting our findings in the keynote at this year’s Facilities Show at London Excel on June 16th, but I thought it might be worth sharing a very unexpected result before then, to see what you all think. (These results are captured a document we produced for Mitie which you can download from this link)

      The research results identified a major dichotomy between the reactions of female and male staff. Perhaps because they are a specialist in workplace change management, who phrased the questions in a different way, they appeared to have unearthed an interesting trend – that female employees seem to be far less at ease in the modern workplace than their male counterparts.

      Women feel less cared for at work

      There were a number of points in the report that reflected this theme. Although I am proud to be able to report that our clients have worked hard to ensure that diversity is core to every aspect of their business, the research findings suggest that this does not seem to be the case everywhere. One finding was that women’s confidence that their organisations cared about their wellbeing was a full 14 percentage points lower than their male contemporaries.

      From an employer’s perspective seeking to encourage staff input, another concern was the finding that while two in three men will comfortably question management decisions, just half of their female colleagues said that they felt they could do so without risking harm to their career progression.

      As you might imagine working in a business where diversity is second nature, these numbers really are deeply unsettling. It made me ask if despite all the efforts companies have taken, has the business world still failed to deliver true equality?

      Certainly within our own sector, the percentage of female senior managers is very low – probably no more than 10%. Even then, none of them started out in FM or Property.

      Attending various conferences and industry events we’ve heard the ideas and insight of female Lawyers, Marketers, HR Directors and COOs, who have all taken property and FM into their management portfolios. But when I look around he audience, I can pretty much guarantee that it will be over 90% male. I really do have to ask if our industry doing enough to ensure that we encourage gender equality and balance, and are we making careers in property and facilities as attractive to women as they are to men?’

      Certainly, FM today is still a male-dominated industry. However, we need to think hard about changing our sector’s image, and maybe some of our practices, because there is a massive swing going on in education – Whereas in 1970 there were 160 male university students for every 100 females, in 2014 there were just 93 men per 100 women. By 2020 it is estimated that 60% of graduates will be women, so they are set to play an increasingly important role in business right across the board.

      There’s no question that the gender balance in the workplace at large is changing – but findings like this make me wonder if the property world is keeping pace with these changes or will it suddenly have to run very hard to catch up with what is happening in the outside world?


      A version of this first appeared in The Mitie Debates