Women in facilities management – challenges and opportunities

Kirsten Smith has a vision for the future of facilities management in Australia. It’s one where managers head up ”˜shared services’ – because they know how to integrate IT, HR, finance and the physical place.

As one of more than 34,000 women working in the industry – around 17 per cent of the total facilities management workforce – Ms Smith believes women offer a different perspective on the role of facilities management.

Having worked in the industry for 17 years, her resume details countless major projects for private, government and educational organisations and, perhaps most notably, she is the co-founder and current chair of the Women in Facility Management (WiFM) group.

Ms Smith believes the different approach women have to work gives them the skills they need to excel in the facilities management industry.

“Women generally see beyond the technical. Whilst we’re good at building an integrated physical space we also understand the importance of building relationships, which is key to successfully servicing an organisation across all functions,” Smith said.

It is this ability that gets women to the point where an organisation trusts them to provide more than just the technical aspects of facilities management. Ms Smith identifies relationship building, management, communication, negotiation and leadership skills as critical to performing in the industry.

Despite these significant opportunities, she says the industry is not without its challenges however: “There is no real consensus within the industry on what facilities management actually is. For some it’s solely building the physical space and running operations. For others it’s equally operational and strategic”.

“I believe it’s moving away from the nuts and bolts of buildings to being more a service. Providing IT, catering, leasing and construction services to the organization.

“But this lack of definition is also the industry’s greatest opportunity in that you have the power to make it whatever you want it to be. If you’re open minded and can get results to show the executive team, this industry can take you wherever you want to go – there are no real barriers.

“You’re also never out of a job. Whether the economy is going boom or bust you’re either growing or shrinking an organisation. There are always things to be done.”

Ms Smith anticipates a bright future for the industry.

“I believe facilities managers will attain greater responsibility and ultimately head shared services within organisations as they are the ones that know how successfully integrate all functions of the business,” she said.

With more universities offering undergraduate degrees in facilities management, Ms Smith hopes the industry will become more appealing for young women looking for a rewarding corporate career.

“My advice to women entering the field would be to take every opportunity that comes and not forget that if you’re going to build a workplace or maintain a facility it is ultimately filled with people, so don’t underestimate the importance of building those relationships.”

About Kirsten Smith

Kirsten Smith is the Principal of changeangels, a corporate change consultancy specialising in property, construction and facilities management change.

With over 25 years in the facilities management industry Kirsten has extensive expertise across a range of private, government and international projects and is founder and current chair of Women in Facilities Management (WiFM) group.
Kirsten has also provided education and training to facilities managers for over 10 years, placing her as a thought-leader in the FM industry.