The May Women in FM annual (virtual) event, hosted by NFMT and sponsored by Lambent, brought together leading female voices in the field of Facilities Management for a panel discussion on their experience coming up in the industry, their strategies for success, and the ways they bring their whole selves to bear on the profession.
The event attracted more than 200 attendees.
Today’s FM career track draws on a much wider breadth of experience than it once did – that’s everyone from property managers to sustainability experts and specialists in urban informatics – and yes, the people who deal with burst pipes.
“If a pipe burst – like it did yesterday – I’m the one that is going to be on hand,” explains Nicole Sherry, Director of Field Operations for the Orioles and one of only two women in MLB history to hold that title.
To Sherry, the legendary field at Camden Yards is like her other child. “It’s like I have two children that really need a lot of attention and I try my best to teach my crew everything that I do so that if I need to be out for whatever reason, they can step right in without any harm to the field.”
The 24/7, 9-1-1 nature of FM jobs may not have changed much since Facilities Management titles were introduced 50 years ago– but Sherry is among the many women who are transforming the industry.
“So, it’s loving problem-solving, loving buildings, loving people, loving dynamic environments and challenges.”DIANA ORTIZ BURNS, DIRECTOR OF FACILITIES AT MERIDIAN INTERNATIONAL CENTER
DIVERSE SKILLS AND SPECIALTIES
Director of Facilities Diana Ortiz Burns brings more than a decade of experience in operations management and environmental sustainability to the Meridian International Center, a Washington, D.C. – based nonprofit.
“We’re always going to be different in this industry, and I think I’ve realized personally – that’s a thing I’m really embracing – how I’m different, and why that’s awesome.”
As the field grows more diverse – in terms of skill sets, backgrounds, personalities, race, gender, and all the ways diversity can be represented – the greater the opportunity for the career and the titles associated with it to have the greatest impact, says Ortiz Burns.
“So, it’s loving problem-solving, loving buildings, loving people, loving dynamic environments and challenges.”
“It’s not just all about building operations or events or moves or project management. There’s just something new every single day.”WENDY LIBERT, SENIOR FACILITIES MANAGER AT THE AMERICAN INSTITUTES FOR RESEARCH
DREAM JOBS, MENTORS, AND ADVICE
“I never thought that facilities were my dream career going into it,” said Wendy Libert, Senior Facilities Manager at the American Institutes for Research.
“It has turned into a dream career because [it has changed] and I’ve never been bored with it. There’re so many different directions you can go.
It’s not just all about building operations or events or moves or project management. There’s just something new every single day.”
Ericka Westgard, Vice President of Operations at C&W Services, a facility services company with more than 600 customers, set her sights on her career path early, earning a B.S. in Facilities Management.
As a student, she says, “I probably didn’t really get the full understanding that as a facility manager you’re the one that’s going to be running towards the fire when everybody else is running outside.”
Westgard’s career remains exciting in part due to new challenges, and new technologies.
“At one point, it [FM] was probably viewed as more of a support-type role – or more of a functional role.” Today, she says high-performing FM leaders are viewed as an “innovative, core competency.”
WHOLE SELVES, REAL WORK
The importance of mentorship was central to the NFMT panel discussion. Not just for networking, but for honest feedback, and a confidant when workplace dynamics are challenging.
“It’s definitely helped me personally,” says Ortiz Burns. “I had men and women who really took me under their wing, and I wouldn’t be here without them.”
What’s some advice they’d give their younger selves, or anyone following in their footsteps? For starters, take care of your own mental and physical health before attending to the physical properties and spaces you’re responsible for maintaining and improving.
Develop a global awareness – whether it’s learning a second language, or developing a new understanding of ways to increase DE&I on the teams you manage. Learn new technologies by asking for training and support so some work can be automated or completed remotely. And bring your whole self to work, even if it means saying you need a break. Vulnerability during intense times can help facilities management teams know they are part of a team that prioritizes employee work-life balance. Also:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Trust your instincts, even early on.
- Train your team to feel empowered.
- Find a mentor – be a mentor.
- Search out supportive leaders and organizations.
And, from Julie Johnson Roberts (no surprise) a plug for data as a way to level the playing field.
“It’s not just women’s voices that could be discounted. It could be a more junior employee could be someone new to the team – who might have a great perspective. We want to give people data so that they will be the most informed people at the table when it comes to planning our smart spaces.”
To learn more about how Lambent helps facilities management teams, schedule time with one of our experts today.