Diversity: Another Way for Facility Managers to Add Value
Here’s why facility leaders are embracing diversity and inclusion, and how they’re making it work.
The facility management agenda is crowded with practical, often pressing, concerns about building systems, tight budgets, deadlines, and legal obligations. But the facility manager’s job has another side, one that motivates many of the best facility managers. It’s a desire to do the right thing. Facility managers care about the stewardship of physical assets, the well being of people, the impact of buildings on the planet, beauty, and many other factors that go beyond day-to-day problems. These days, facility managers are coming to see diversity both as the right thing to do and as a way to address immediate needs.
At Froedtert Health, the business case for diversity is that it's a way to better attract customers. "The more we can have caregivers who reflect that diversity, the more comfortable people hopefully will be seeking care from us," says John Balzer, VP, facility planning and development.
The business case for diversity may not be immediately obvious to facility managers who haven’t thought about the subject, but the benefits can be substantial. Within the facility department, diversity offers a way to attract and keep the best talent. As the baby boom generation retires, facility managers face the challenge of recruiting new staff in a tight labor market. One solution is to reach out to a more diverse pool of applicants.
What’s more, a diverse team can be a more productive team. Employees with different backgrounds may have different ways of looking at a problem, offering new ideas and sparking discussions that can lead to more creative solutions.
In some organizations, diversity also is a way to help attract customers. “The community we serve is certainly a diverse and ever-changing mix,” says John Balzer, vice president, facility planning and development, Froedtert Hospital. “The more we can have caregivers who reflect that diversity, the more comfortable people hopefully will be seeking care from us.”
In an organization committed to diversity, a facility manager’s efforts to increase staff diversity offer another way to add value by supporting the corporate goal. Moreover, by exploring diversity strategies proactively, and developing an approach that works well for the department, facility managers can control their own destinies, rather than waiting until a corporate mandate forces their hand.
Making diversity work demands new ways of doing business. A starting point is to create a diversity and inclusion statement. That statement can help educate current employees about the principles the department aspires to, as well as to show potential job candidates that their applications will be welcome.
To get a diverse pool of applicants, it will probably be necessary to expand job outreach efforts. One way to do that is by connecting with groups representing diverse populations. Another is to rethink job requirements. Hiring criteria limited to specific experience and education can limit the pool of candidates who have a real shot at the job.
“We focus on making sure that we bring in diversity,” says Nancy Novak, senior vice president of construction, Compass Datacenters. At the entry level, Compass will hire candidates who have no facility experience but do bring a good attitude and the ability to learn fast. From there, Novak says, “we have a very cool on-the-job training process that builds success regardless of experience.” One indication of the success of their approach. In the United States, all of the Compass construction managers are currently women.
Even if an employee is not as technically savvy as others on the team, the person may have leadership or other attributes that make them valuable contributors.
“We as FMs don’t always know what it’s like to be in an occupant’s shoes, so it’s helpful to have someone with that background on the team,” says Kylash Ramesh, management analyst, division of facilities operations and maintenance, National Institutes of Health. “Some of the stars on the team don’t have a technical facility background.”
Setting targets for the level of diversity required in the candidate mix, and insisting that those goals be met, will help ensure that expanded recruitment strategies actually deliver a broad array of applicants. Throughout the hiring process, be aware of the risk of unconscious bias, which can undermine efforts to build a more diverse workforce. Eliminating photos from resumes is one straightforward way to help ensure that candidates are treated equally. Other steps: Be sure that people on the interview panel come from a range of backgrounds. And ask the same questions of all candidates, in the same order.
Hiring is only the first stage of the journey to diversity. Once a new employee is on board, it’s essential for facility managers to think about how to make the person successful.
When the existing facility staff shares a common background, and a person with a different background joins the team, invisible barriers can make it harder for the new employee to flourish. Again, facility managers should be aware of the risk of unconscious bias. Strategies for peer engagement, such as roundtables and listening sessions, help all voices to be heard.
At Queens Public Library, Linda Green, vice president, facilities and environmental services, has facilitated training sessions for her staff on topics related to diversity, including LGBTQ, the experience of immigrants, religious beliefs, disability awareness, aging, and socioeconomic disparities. The sessions were “eye-opening,” Green says. “There have been some very uncomfortable discussions. It’s just fascinating to try to have open dialog. Understanding and tolerance are not automatic.”
In the end, diversity is really another way for facility managers to make a positive impact. Although a more diverse facility workforce is not as tangible as a school, hospital, or high-rise, the impact of diversity efforts can be a lasting part of a facility manager’s legacy.
Edward Sullivan is a former editor-in-chief of Building Operating Management magazine.