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Tools to Leverage in Career Advancement

Though the average facility manager is white, somewhere in the mid 50s, and male, women in facilities management have been steadily increasing in number over the years. Such strategies as networking, platform-building, and finding a mentor can help them build this number.

In the overall commercial real estate market, which includes the asset, property, and facility management sector, women comprised 43 percent of commercial real estate professionals in the United States, according to a 2010 CREW Network survey. And women are rising through the ranks of leadership — to a point. For example, in the CREW Network survey, of respondents who reached the C-suite 9 percent were women, compared to 22 percent men.

As the average facility manager, along with the majority of the Baby Boomers, is poised to retire in the next ten years or so, a wealth of opportunities exist for women to move in ever greater numbers into leadership positions in the industry. This upward movement, however, is not inevitable nor automatic and will require strategy, smart planning, and more than a little bit of moving outside of personal comfort zones for the people who want to make that possibility a reality.

Across the board, when facility management experts are asked what women should be doing to advance their careers, the top-of-mind strategies are networking, finding a mentor, and working with a sponsor. These terms are often repeated in the industry and can feel like they mean almost the same thing, but there are important differences.

Networking is more than just meeting up for drinks. It's building a cadre of peers that can serve as a sounding board, help troubleshoot issues, and keep an eye out for new opportunities.

"That's the way to make connections, that's the way to grow, in this profession," says Alana Dunoff, consultant, AFD Facility Planning, and associate adjunct faculty at Temple University. "Whether it's BOMA, or IFMA, or COREnet, or CREW — there's so many different associations. But stay connected and find your place, because you have no idea what that network will bring you in the long run."

These organizations can also be used as platforms for establishing oneself as a subject matter expert, by running a chapter, presenting at a conference, or serving on a committee.

Within the network, a facility manager will likely find a mentor, though this individual does not necessarily have to be in the same field. Some companies have formal mentor/mentee programs, but these at times can be artificial relationships and not provide the desired results. The goal is to identify someone with whom you have a natural affinity, who can serve as a sounding board and guidepost in a collegial relationship.

In addition to a mentor, facility managers would do well to identify a sponsor. The main difference between the two is that the sponsor is usually someone well-positioned to facilitate growth in a career.

"One of the things that we found was that because there are fewer women at the top, it's much harder for women to help each other to advance," says Lori Kilberg, president of CREW Network and partner at Hartman Simons & Wood. "There's that saying, 'You have to see it to be it.' What we have found is it's so crucial for women to develop sponsorship opportunities, someone who is going to advocate for you in a much stronger way than would a mentor. Mentors give advice, but a sponsor is someone who propels to action, who takes steps to propel your career."

In general, people think of networks, mentors, and sponsors as resources to advance their own careers (what's in it for me), but in turn it is important for facility managers to consider how they could serve as mentors or sponsors for others. "In most cases, women and men in those upper levels are so busy that they're not necessarily thinking in that way," says Kilberg. "That's part of the education process, so they understand they have an active role to play. They have got to train and nurture the next generation of leaders within their companies for their companies to be successful."

To read more about career advancement advice in facilities management, read this.


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