Women In Facilities Roundtable at NFMT 2015

photo courtesy of Ballistic Furniture, @BallisticFS

What do you get when you put 100+ women and (smart) men in a room to chat about women in facilities?  A high-energy, fun event with lots of positive ideas exchanged. 

Panelists included Tina Reistma from Sodexo, Theresa Olson from Fannie Mae, and moi! :)  Here's a high-level summary of the discussion moderated by the very talented Naomi Millan. (Photo courtesy of Ballistic Furniture, @BallisticFS)

- What are some of the smartest things women can do to advance their careers?
Being open to new opportunities.  Even when the challenge seemed daunting or you fear you’ll be in way over our head, you have to try and absolutely take chances. You can worry about backing off later if you need to.  Once you jump in, you only have to worry about the issue right in front of your face in the beginning.  If you’re fixated on the enormity of the challenge, new stuff is too overwhelming.

- What are some of the challenges or missteps you have observed along the way?
At times, women are too risk averse.  At others, they’re trying to be someone that they’re not. One example is when new managers are feeling pressure coming from a boss or client. Under stress, new managers sometimes go too far to the extreme or too heavy handed with giving feedback, setting unrealistic deadlines, and not listening when people brought issues up. The telltale attitude is, “yeah, everyone is busy just get your shit done.  I don’t want to hear it.”  
When this happens over a period of time, morale drops and staff may feel no other option than to leave the team. Watching people walk out is so hard—and feeling responsible for their bad experience is a bad place to be. You can avoid this mistake by remaining true to yourself, being honest with your team about the stresses and challenges you’re feeling, and find support in your leadership and network.

- What credentials, training, organizations, etc. have proven to be most helpful to you and why?
There is so much available today.  NFMT is a prime example of the availability of positive, broad, quality content and opportunities. In addition to technical trainings and conference, broad leadership, strategic thinking, and managerial programs are excellent.  Take advantage of anything and everything your organization has to offer.

- In speaking with FM professionals, many seem to have had a moment of reckoning where they realized they were leaders, and they realized they wanted to lead in a certain way. Has this happened for you and what has that meant in your careers?
Yes! Have you ever had the feeling of being part of a team and all of a sudden you look around and realize you’re it. There is no net.  You’re just doing it.  It can make your heart jump for second when you really reflect on the level of responsibility you have.  Then you just get back to work. We have all hit this point a couple of times.  

Many of us are happiest being very hands on. The belief that teams are most effective when they’re working in a positive environment should be spread across all kinds of organizations. Further, working to provide every possible piece of information to your staff on the issues and challenges you’re facing as a team only empowers them to make better decisions and prioritize what stuff they bring you to arbitrate.

- How do you judge that a position is a good fit for you? How do you identify when it is no longer a good fit (here with an eye to trend of women being overly loyal to one position). How do you identify and prepare for that next step?
Many women do fall in the bucket of loyalty (sometimes to a fault) to one organization, boss, client, etc.  One key question to ask yourself is, “am I still learning something?”  When the answer was no, reach out for new stuff.  In facilities consulting, this rarely means that you shed past responsibilities. Instead, you just pick up more stuff. That’s ok to a point because it brings new time management challenges, new relationships, new issues, new staff, and so on.
When you’re truly ready to move on, you’ll notice a number of pieces falling into place. Any misalignment with the organization’s strategic direction or the messages coming out of leadership can be big indicators. Further, when you don’t see a path for yourself and you’ve checked your perspectives and observations against your network, you’ll know when it’s time.
To prepare for that, there are some tactical things about shoring up your network that you need to do.  There are also some personal and emotional things you need to consider.  The first is just anticipate some amount of disorganization and loneliness in the beginning. Before you even leave, line up some familiar touch-base coffees or lunches to help you through the first couple of months.

- What roadblocks do you see women setting up for themselves, and how should these be avoided/overcome?
These aren’t unique to women. A ton of men do them too. One big roadblock that staff unintentionally put up for themselves is talking about the wrong things to the wrong people. We need absolute alignment between the issues we’re bringing up with the person we’re talking to—and we have to put in their context. Oversharing on family issues or reason you need to be out of the office are prime examples. Of course, at times having a conversation about personal issues is necessary with a direct supervisor or manager.  But these shouldn’t be a recurring theme or part of your brand.  Keep your every conversation that you can focused on the client’s issue, business problem, staff’s needs, etc.

- Do you have any advice/tips for effectively negotiating career/pay/benefits? 
If someone comes in with facts—ideally from data they have sourced externally or from an appropriate internal source—and are able to put what they want to do in the context of our larger business, that’s great.  When the manager feels manipulated or threatened, it’s a huge turn-off and a short-term strategy, at best.

- What do you see the industry doing to attract and develop women, is it working, and what should be done better?
Events like this are great.  The other thing we can do is focus on the women already in facilities within our organizations.  Help them envision a path so they stay and don’t leave for greener pastures.  There are oodles of juicy technical, strategic, and management problems to solve.  Second only to maybe healthcare, facilities is something that is growing—it’s not going away.