What is it like for Women in Facilities Management? An Interview with Terri Gillard
While the number of women in facilities management is now at 24% (according to a study done by the International Facilities Management Association), the number of them in leadership positions is still quite low. However, having been in business for the last ten years, we have been noticing a noticeable change for the better, for example; the last three CEOs of the BIFM have been women.
More women today than ever before are joining the ranks of facilities professionals and helping to change the face of the industry into one that is more textured and welcoming of people from all backgrounds. We have had to pleasure to work with such people and hence we took it upon ourselves to interview someone who would be able to share an insight into this element of the Facilities Management industry.
Introducing Terri Gillard
We were lucky enough to spend some time with Terri Gillard, Head of Facilities at NENT as well as Managing Director of Pure Facilities UK, a client and a close friend. Lending her insight on what it’s like to be a woman working in an industry that is mostly made up of men, Terri spoke to us about her career in facilities management and offered advice for other women stepping into the facilities field. She talked to us about what it may take for women to penetrate the field of Facility Management.
Difficulties in the Past
When asked what struggles she had to face earlier on in the industry she recounted: “through my career, there seems to be less trust in experience and knowledge, so you have to prove that you can do the job. For example, if you report to executive management, you have to prove yourself. Whenever a new board member or senior joins the team you have to do it all over again,” even then, when she showcased some of her expertise “someone would say ‘how did you know about this sort of thing’?” In earlier days there were preconceptions that women simply weren’t as capable as men at the job, and hence that disadvantage always had to be overcome. She also recalled a moment during a facilities event when she and her female colleague were in the mechanical engineering section of the show, they were largely ignored, in a sense, it seemed a lot like they didn’t belong, the only time they were approached was for a photo opportunity. “The situation was quite awkward and when we started to talk about high-density cooling, the photographer was shocked!”
Facilities as it is Today
While Terri had said this in response to our question as to what it takes for a woman to make it in facilities, she did assure us that the industry had made great strides in the past 20 years and that Facilities Management is more accommodating in recent days:
“I have a team of people - I would like to say there is an element of respect, that is probably the case for both male or female, but I never had issues with my team. The majority of my team has been guys.”
This, at the very least, has shown that while the industry is still male-led, it isn’t impossible for women to penetrate. The out with the old and in with the new has meant that there are younger and more progressive people working in more male-led industries. While women may still be a fringe group, younger people in the business have fewer prejudices towards those who are less commonly found in the industry. It has now been less the case that one needs to prove herself more than another, she can be seen as a person rather than as a woman, or an outsider.
“If you look at media companies they recruit young so that’s probably why it is that marketing teams are more diverse.”
Despite this, there are some difficulties that still arise, because older members are usually those who mentor, it can mean that some nuance can be lost in translation between the genders, considering most of them will commonly be male.
Such nuances do not necessarily have to be biological in nature, when we asked whether Terri noticed any difference between male and female people in facilities, she expressed that:
“Most of the time women are more pro-active and show attention to detail.” She asserted that women “Can’t do the role and be a shrinking violet, you need to be able to stand your ground and not be thin-skinned.” She then elaborated that: “You’ve got to be a good hat changer and be able to read people quickly.” Which is a general rule of thumb for people in Facilities, and something to keep in mind for anyone who wants to enter the industry.
Terri herself has been on an interesting cruise on her way to being where she is now, when it comes to senior roles in Facilities the percentage is far less than the 24% quoted earlier in the article. Her journey started soon after she worked as a receptionist for a fashion designer:
“I didn’t last long as a receptionist, the lady was very much ‘Devil Wears Prada’ and so I got a temp position working for London underground during the extension of the Jubilee in the facilities dept. That was my first insight. It was a two-week position and I kept asking questions and ended up working for four years. I ask a lot of questions and am inquisitive, I’m a why person. I helped them move from St James to Canary Wharf, I used to do site tours, show them the tunnels, everything was boarded up.” She continued: “When the TFL job finished, I wanted to further my career in facilities and wanted to go the next level up, also it makes you more aware of what facilities is as an industry. Throughout my career I’ve done all of it, I wanted to experience it in all aspects.”
Facilities is a challenging job that requires long hours and hard work, so the requirement of being a “why” person makes a lot of sense. As a position in leadership, it was clear that Terri was an incredibly hard worker with a love for her job, “The day changes, everything has a lot of sporadic variety. I like working under pressure.” Her passion and hard work ethic is also evidenced by the fact that she actually lives in Denmark, and hence has to travel twice a week back and forth to London to do her job during the weekdays!
The “Freemasons” of the Facilities World
Terri’s offered an interesting observation on another way she noticed there was a growth of women in the industry. She referred to 5 or so years ago where she was invited to an event called Micawber:
“It is a bit like freemasons, all people who are professionals and MDs and it has ten members, they put on events that people can go to but they change the chairman every year and he nominates a charity.”
She mentioned that at that time, out of the 500 people who were invited to the event, she was the only woman, however in the most recent event there were five, and she herself has been considered to be one of the main ten members. While the jump isn’t big, it’s still a sign that things are changing.
A Change for the better
In recent years the Facilities Management industry is growing more and more accommodating for women. While there are still not that many women in the industry itself, space is there for them and their input is heavily valued. Inspiring people like Terri, and many of the other women we work with shows that the industry is growing to be more inclusive, and a hard work ethic, a passion for the job, and the willingness to learn and gain expertise is key to succeeding, rather than how you may look on the outside.
We found it a pleasure to gain insight into the issue of women in Facilities and learn more about Terri’s journey to leadership in the industry. We hope to cover more women and men who have paved for a path for people aspiring to build a career in this sector.
If you wish to enter the world of Facilities Management, there is a space for you! With the rise of younger professionals with inclusive attitudes, the industry is more diverse than ever. And if you’re already in Facilities and are looking for consultants who are experts in their field, contact us here to find out more about what we can offer you.