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International Women’s Day (IWD) provides an opportunity to both celebrate the achievements of women and reinforce the need for accelerating gender parity. This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity, aiming to encourage conversation about equity and equality and its impact.

To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), we spoke to a few influential women within SWG about the changes they’ve seen in the industry, what advice they would give and their own personal inspirations.

Starting with our Marketing and Operations Director, Hazel Bedson:

As a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, how do you think the FM industry has changed and how do you see it changing in the upcoming years?

I think we are definitely seeing a shift to a more balanced workplace. I’m proud to work for an organisation where a significant portion of the workforce is female, and with a senior leadership team that is almost 50% female. In the industry, more widely, there is some way to go in terms of gender equality, but things are improving. The pandemic was, of course hugely disruptive, but post-pandemic working practices, with a shift towards hybrid and flexible working has been beneficial for employees at all levels. In many cases, it’s driven improved work/life balance, and enabled greater sharing of household and parental responsibilities – which often (though I realise not always!) was where the burden more heavily fell for women. Legislation is also empowering both men and women in terms of shared parental leave and the ability for all working parents to make more choices about their career, family and future aspirations.

What advice would you give to women in the industry?

I think this advice is not just for women, but all across the industry – that your voice and opinion are valuable. We all have different skill sets, based upon our experience and personality – and all are valid; never be afraid to make yourself heard. My other piece of advice is to ensure that you take care of yourself and your mental health – work is important but so is our emotional wellbeing. It’s important to ensure that as well as working hard, you take time out for yourself – whether that is spending time with friends and family, exercising or spending time in nature – to maintain that equilibrium.

What woman or women have positively impacted your career or inspired you?

I’ve worked with some great women throughout my career who have inspired and supported me. In terms of women who inspire me, there are a couple: Zaha Hadid, the architect, one of the first high-profile architects in what was traditionally a male-dominated profession (my background is in architecture hence the inspiration here). And more latterly, Greta Thunberg for her relentless commitment to the environment is hugely inspiring and admirable.

Next, we heard from our UK HR Manager, Neha Patel:

As a woman in a historically male-dominated workplace, how do you think the workplace has changed and how do you see it changing in the upcoming years?

From both experience and observations, I think the workplace has changed extensively but still has a little way to go, but we’re getting there. Historically, you wouldn’t see many female directors, senior managers, chief executives, or leaders. Whereas now I feel the playing field for these roles is fairer. With increased awareness and policies around diversity, equality and inclusion we’re moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give to women in the industry?

My advice would be to be confident and not ever be undermined due to your gender. It’s important to remember that women are equally as important, intelligent, creative and successful decision-makers as men are or can be. Lastly, embrace what you think you cannot do.

What woman or women have positively impacted your career or inspired you?

It might sound a bit cliché, but my Mum. Coming from a little village in India, she didn’t have any English speaking or writing skills, but through her hard work, dedication and commitment, she has shown me that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.  As Beyoncé said Who Run the World….

Furthermore we asked the same questions to International General Manager, Samantha Fuller:

As a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, how do you think the FM industry has changed and how do you see it changing in the upcoming years?

I think we are seeing more women within the industry in a greater range of roles, from on-the-ground maintenance staff to management of upper and middle levels. In terms of where I see the industry changing in the upcoming years, I think there will be a larger focus on business encouraging women to break into new areas like electrical or mechanical engineering and an acknowledgment of the achievements of women in these traditionally male-dominated industries.

What advice would you give to women in the industry?

My advice would be to trust your skills, training and experience and continue to forge new paths – there is no reason to limit yourself. On top of that, I’d say to accept people (including males and superiors) do want your opinion and do want to hear your thoughts and ideas, so ensure you have the confidence to share these.

What woman or women have positively impacted your career or inspired you?

There are a few. Firstly, my mum has had a big impact on my career by instilling a strong work ethic in me. She showed me you have to work hard to get what you want and while there are times to give up there are also times to put everything into what you want to achieve. Another woman that inspires me is Julie Bishop, former Australian politician.  And lastly, a number of close friends, especially those with partners the military deploys. These women juggle work, a family – sometimes playing the role of single mum for months at a time while their partner is away – and just life in general and what it throws at you.

And finally, we spoke to our Canadian General Manager, Kelly Widger:

As a woman in a historically male-dominated industry, how do you think the FM industry has changed and how do you see it changing in the upcoming years?

Historically I think there has been a view that women were in leadership roles in order for companies to appear diverse. However, I believe that perception of women is decreasing as they become more prominent in this industry. Women are now not only finding their voice whilst in these leadership roles, but they are also being heard.

What advice would you give to women in the industry?

I would say my advice would be to play to your strengths, project confidence in all you do and practice fearlessness. I think we need to advocate for ourselves and always be our most authentic selves both in and out of the workplace. And lastly, I would advise people to embrace what you think you cannot do.

What woman or women have positively impacted your career or inspired you?

An ex SWG Director, Nia Swift had a huge impact on my career.  Not only was Nia influential in my knowledge of the P3 market and implementation of such projects, but Nia was also a huge driver in my move to Canada from the UK. I can honestly say I would not be where I am now if it was not for Nia’s mentorship and support.

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