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Seven Tips on How Women (and Men) Can Develop an FM Career


How can women steer clear of roadblocks to their careers in facility management? Here is some advice from industry pros.

1. Give Yourself Credit. One difference between men and women in leadership roles across industries that could make it difficult for a woman to advance is that women tend to give credit to the team, where they perhaps should be claiming it for themselves. When executive recruiters were polled to find out why women were not getting the top jobs, they said it was because the women did not come in and own the room, says Gail Ayers, CEO of CREW Network.

"Sometimes we're our own worst enemy. We don't step up and we're often reluctant to say, 'Yes, I lead that team. I'm the one that helped people step out and make contributions that really mattered. I'm the one that restructured this problem.' Instead women say, 'We did a good job as a team.' If you're looking for a CEO candidate, you want to know that person has an impact and can make a difference."

2. Don't count yourself out. Again and again this point is made by industry observers: Women screen themselves out of opportunities. An opportunity will arise and if a woman feels she does not have 100 percent of the criteria, she won't even apply. "It's not that they're not capable, it's that they won't even put their name in the hat," says Meredith Thatcher, president of Thatcher Workplace Consulting. Men on the other hand tend to at least apply if they have just a handful of the qualifications for the position.

Positions where an individual might have 70 percent of the skills required but demonstrates potential to master the balance are crucial "stretch opportunities" cited time and again as the critical pivot points in many successful leader's careers. Women would do well to consider qualifications listed for a desired position as a framework, not a checklist.

3. Take charge. Waiting around for permission is not the way to get ahead. "What I'm finding is that women who move forward take charge, as opposed to waiting for someone else to figure out the problem, waiting for someone to give them permission," says Mary Gauer, group manager in the health sciences center with the University of New Mexico's planning, design, and construction department. "Waiting for permission is a mistake that a lot of people make." Being a leader means making a decision with the best available information. Having the guts to take the step to move things forward is critical to anyone's success, she says.

The other piece of this is not being intimidated by senior management, says Melissa Van Hagan, facilities manager at Oracle, and not being scared to take risks. "There isn't an executive out there that hasn't failed, that wasn't a risk taker," Van Hagan says. As a result, executives respect people who are willing to take risks. "If you believe something strongly enough, take that risk and stand up for it. It's just like climbing a ladder. You may fall down but you're going to pick yourself up and climb again. That's one thing I tell women: Go out on a limb."

4. Get out of Dodge. Loyalty is a great quality, but sticking with a position for too long can cause you to go stale and could limit growth opportunities. "One of the things I advise people to do is to get as much experience as they can, and that doesn't mean necessarily staying years and years with one company," says Lesley Groff, director of facility solutions at Paul Davis Restoration & Remodeling. "They need to fit a very wide spectrum of everything from customer service to strategic planning." Facility managers hoping to tee themselves up for growth need to build their multi-stage experience, and one company is not necessarily going to do that, she says. Experience in finance is especially desirable these days.

5. Earn credentials. Do what you can for your own professional development so you can be seen as management potential, says Alana Dunoff, consultant, AFD Facility Planning, and associate adjunct faculty at Temple University. She also teaches IFMA's FMP credential, one of several offered by the industry. "Getting credentials, getting those letters after your name, shows the outside world that you are competent in your knowledge," says Dunoff. The credential serves several purposes. First it's a differentiator in the market and organization. It also is an external mark to show that someone is serious about her career and it validates her proficiency in facilities, she says, but it also translates into personal confidence.

6. Demand your worth. Women often rise to the level of middle management and then find themselves stymied. They're good at their jobs, and senior management is very happy to keep them there, says Lori Kilberg, president of CREW Network and partner at Hartman Simons & Wood. Why? "When we ask why these women aren't being promoted, the response is, they don't ask," says Kilberg. "They don't ask for the salary increases, they don't ask for the promotions because they feel that their merits should be observed, understood, and rewarded. We don't want to stick our hand up and say me, me, me."

7. Know your fit. Being able to develop a strong career hinges on finding the right fit, and understanding when you may have outgrown a situation. It comes down to whether or not there is alignment between an individual's goals and an organization's goals, says Maureen Ehrenberg, executive managing director for integrated facilities management at JLL. If your aspirations are different than the company's, "you know there at some point that you have to leave, and the longer you defer that decision, the more you're deferring your career," she says. Loyalty and patience are important, but be realistic about where the firm is going. "If you're with the wrong organization, it's time to look at the market and understand what would be the next place to go. Also, understand the culture of different organizations and where you'd be a good fit and where you wouldn't be a good fit and be realistic about that.

To read more about career development in facilities management, go here.

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