Girl Power

FM industry asks if women are better managers of staff and communities

ANALYSIS, Facilities Management, Fm industry

A selection of women in the fm industry discuss their careers and where they plan to go from here

There is no dearth of women in the FM industry in the Middle East. As proven by many studies, females and males bring different qualities to the work environment, and it is important to accept that female thoughts and management add a special touch to any industry, including FM. With these different qualities come varied challenges and responsibilites.

MEFMA found this idea so important, it dedicated a panel session to debate on the issue at its most recent Confex in Dubai. One of the questions the panel posed was: “do women manage people and communities better?”

The idea behind this was psychology, which shows that women use the right side of their brain more and rely more on emotions to make decisions. Following this logic, does it mean that women care more on an emotional level about the community as whole?

However, another element that should be recognised is the role of women in the industry specifically in the Middle East. With its own set of cultural demands, can women in this region successfully work in a sector that often demands a lot of time?

The topic was hotly debated at the conference, with strong opinions shining forth. Some women were of the belief that while the industry offered a lot of opportunity to women, it also had a shelf-life, with marriage and children being factors that may inhibit career development.

Many also rued the fact that women were not found in top management jobs. One of the speakers, Dr Marie Puybaraud from Johnson Controls said that while FM is a 24/7 job, there is ample scope for progression if there is a certain level of personal willingness to make it work.

To coincide with International Women’s Day, fmME interviews the high-flying female figures in the industry, and discusses the challenges in the region.

Sandrine Le Biavant
Division manager – consulting, Farnek Avireal

What is your career history to date?
Having lived in Africa as a child for seven years and having seen the beneficial impact of tourism on the local economy, naturally I have always had a great affinity for the hospitality industry.

So it was hardly surprising the direction that my career took — one year with Club Med working for the CEO in investment studies, nine years of sales and marketing roles with Hilton International, plus an extremely interesting five years of my career spent as a consultant advising hotels about their revenue enhancement strategies.

At that stage, I joined Farnek Avireal as division manager — consulting, and embarked on my sustainability journey. The role was a perfect fit for me. Since the global economic downturn, hotels and owners have been looking even more at ways in which they can cut unnecessary costs to enhance their bottom line.

Now I advise hotels and property managers about ways to increase profit not through increasing revenue this time, but through the implementation of steps towards sustainable change, recommending simple stages needed to reduce utilities output, reduce carbon emissions and increase their positive impact on the communities they serve.

Naturally by saving energy and water, buildings can ultimately reduce their utility charges, savings which go straight to the bottom line.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
The FM industry is such a dynamic industry; I love the cut and thrust of addressing tough challenges especially those linked to sustainability, the health and safety, and security of buildings.

Hi-tech buildings need a highly technical workforce, which in turn needs continuous training, I find that aspect of FM absolutely riveting; some of the technological advances are stunning.
FM is also an industry which draws many parallels with the hospitality sector, especially the focus on customer satisfaction and the high quality of service standards.

Similarly, FM professionals are like hoteliers in that respect — passionate, dedicated and proud to be a part of this industry.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East facilities management industry?
The growing number of new and aging towers in the UAE, the technological advances in design and build, the ever-increasing quality of operational standards and the improved quality standards (quality and H&S).

How do you think the role of women in the facilities management industry is changing?
I often see women in property management roles and it is impressive to see the level of technical expertise these ladies show in what is still a male-dominated industry. I’m always amazed by their knowledge, strength of character and their professionalism.

I feel women are a key link for recognising the human aspect of FM and the necessary soft management skills required to organise and motivate a modern project team.

Even though FM can be extremely stressful at times, I would expect more ladies to eventually enter the industry in training, quality, business development and also as energy engineers and sustainability strategies.

What are your career aspirations?
Sustainability is in my heart and soul and my enthusiasm must be contagious, as many of our clients have recognised the link between saving energy and saving money and between sustainable strategies and long term benefits in HR and customer retention.

I am happy in my current role as I still have lots of milestones I would like to achieve. But perhaps one day I’d like to take up a role with one of the international environmental agencies, and make a more global contribution to reducing carbon emissions and cleaning the environment.

Joanna Saward
Business development manager, Macro International

What is your career history to date?
I graduated with a degree in hospitality management and worked in France, Italy and Greece as well as the UK. A move into the facilities management industry was a natural progression for me as I saw a number of similarities between the two, namely customer service and the delivery of services to high standards.

My first role in FM was client services co-ordinator responsible for soft services with a large service provider in London. From there I joined a small recruitment company that specialised in FM. FM recruitment bought me to Dubai in 2007 and I took up a role as business development manager for a UK-based FM company who were just entering the market here.

Unfortunately that position was made redundant in 2010 due to a change in direction, but the opportunity to stay in business development remained with a role in a UAE government owned FM service provider. I joined Macro International in December 2012.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
The variety of what it has to offer and the mix of people you meet and work with.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East FM industry?
The recognition of what FM actually is and the understanding of how essential it is to the current and future state of where we work, live and play. An added challenge is its reactive instead of the proactive nature; a direct result of the sheer pace of development in the region.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
I think women have always played a vital role in the FM industry. Historically their roles have not necessarily been at the forefront and not been recognised as coming under the umbrella of FM as we understand it.

This is now changing as the understanding and perception of FM is evolving; we are seeing more women in the engineering and technical aspects of the industry as well as more women in strategic and senior management roles.

What are your career aspirations?
To continue to work within the industry, learn from it, to develop within it and promote the female aspect of it.

Khairya Al-Sawad
Facility management consultant, Macro International

What is your career history to date?
I joined Macro International four months ago as a facility management consultant. I previously was head of development & coordination at the Northern Area Municipality in Bahrain. For over two years, I was a senior engineer for special projects at the Ministry of Works & Housing in Bahrain.

I also worked for the City Engineering Bureau in Bahrain as an architect for two years. As an adjunct professor, I also taught and delivered courses in architecture and interior design at NYIT-Bahrain.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
Conducting FM design reviews. It’s interesting to review the design and understand their impact on FM operations.

Biggest challenge facing the industry?
To educate the architectural consultancy firms about the priorities of FM, and to educate the investors and developers about its role in improving performance, reducing long-term costs, and implementing safety and quality standards.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
I am a strong believer that the male-dominated industries are, to some extent, changing their traditional mind-sets.However, most higher management positions seem to be reserved for men, though that may well change. I like the Macro approach to adopting flexible working hours for women with families and that flexibility will attract other women if it is offered by other firms.

What are your career aspirations?
I want to focus on sustainable design and sustainable FM operations. I am working to obtain my LEED GA certificate.

Lynne Wylie
Facilities manager, Emrill Services LLC

What is your career history to date?
After getting my Masters Degree from the University of St. Andrews, UK, I began my career in facilities management with one of Ireland’s independent serviced office providers, Focus Suites, where I successfully drove facilities management and operational initiatives.

I relocated to the UAE over two years ago and managed the delivery of facilities services for Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Shortly after, I was handpicked by Emrill to manage a portfolio of prestigious projects that includes Princess Tower and Torch Tower, which are among the top four tallest residential towers in the world.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
No day is the same for a facilities manager. Every day has its own set of unique tasks and issues that need to be resolved in the buildings. What I enjoy is the variety of the job and as problem solving is one of my personal traits; it comes very naturally to me.

I am personally passionate about the delivery of facilities services to clients. The industry is a developing one in the region with massive potential for growth as more and more clients understand the need to extend the life of their assets and cost effectively manage their facilities.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East facilities management industry today?
The biggest challenge in facilities management is a lack of understanding and implementation of sustainability initiatives.

While many companies view sustainability as a CSR initiative, sustainability plays a much larger role in ensuring that resources are conserved and as a result, decreases operational costs.

Due to the vulnerability of critical resources in the region, energy management is emerging as a priority and there is an urgent need for energy management and engineering resources. I believe every facilities management company has a duty to inform and assist their clients in effectively implementing an energy management plan.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
The industry is not defined purely by gender roles, technical know-how or people skills. It is about balance. I am witnessing the growth of women within the sector and I believe we have a lot to offer the industry. Some of the best facilities managers I know are women.

A facilities manager, irrelevant of their gender, must have excellent communication, organisation, people management and technical skills to deliver an efficient and seamless service.

What are your career aspirations?
My current ambition is to become a senior facilities manager within Emrill and manage more projects across their extensive portfolio in the UAE. I am also looking forward to developing my skills with Emrill Energy in the energy management field to better advise and truly serve my clients’ needs with the current energy challenges we are facing in the region.

Sinead Bridgett
Director at MEFMA

What is your career history to date?
I was an exhibition director prior to my management of MEFMA. In 2005 I initiated the launch of the FM EXPO, which was the first industry exhibition for the FM sector within the Middle East. It was through this experience that I first saw the need for an industry association and began the task of trying to launch one. I started networking events on a monthly basis in 2006 and called it the FMBG (Facility Management Business Group).

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
I like that the profession is so new and with that newness comes many learning and development stages. Being in business development and management for most of my career, I like a challenge, and one that brings many rewards. The FM industry provides me with contentment in my career as I can see first hand the fast changes that are occuring in the industry through MEFMA’s initiatives.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East FM industry?
Due to the industry and MEFMA being so new, we have many challenges that we face but none that we see as serious hurdles.

MEFMA’s main area of limitation at present would be the lack of history in the FM industry within the Middle East which has resulted in a challenge when it comes to obtaining statistics and historic case studies on FM.

MEFMA will be reaching out to the industry across the Middle East with the launch of The MEFMA Challenge, which will provide the association with much-needed case studies and statistics on TFM companies, service providers and suppliers from across the Middle East.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
I think it is pretty fair to say that the role of women in the Middle East in almost all sectors is changing.

I have been living and working in the region for 10 years now and during my time here I have witnessed many positive changes and transformations in such a relatively short period. There is less and less of the mindset that women do one thing and men do another, when it comes to the workplace and job roles overall.

Instead we are beginning to see a wider acceptance of women in roles that were predominantly male-only occupations, such as the airline industry. Women just need to apply and assert themselves; the region is ready for change.

What are your career aspirations?
I have many for MEFMA, so to condense and summarise, I want the association to be the best of the best worldwide and to grow exponentially over the coming months and years. I want to give the utmost back to our members and to help the industry with progressive, healthy changes that MEFMA has initiated.

And finally, to be the most recognised and respected FM industry association worldwide — that would be the ultimate achievement and my personal aspiration.

Heidi Teague
Business integration and development manager (MENA & Turkey), Johnson Controls

What is your career history to date?
I started with Johnson Controls in 1998 and prior to this, I worked in both the public and private sector as an operations and administration director for a visual merchandising company.

After winning a regional communications team award in 2008, and then a global innovation award in 2012, I was asked to move to the Middle East to assist in setting up our ‘total building operations and maintenance’ division, and integrate it into the overall business.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
It is an ever-changing world and no day is the same. FM at a strategic level involves meeting and exceeding a client’s wants and needs by listening and understanding in order to give them the best solution for the problems they have.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East FM industry?
The ME FM industry is an emerging and vibrant market and the majority of building owners are not convinced they need to manage their buildings in a holistic way by ensuring their assets (including people) work more efficiently through the adoption of even the most basic of FM principles.

Asset management, whole lifecycle costing, quality of delivery and efficient maintenance practices comes at a price that this market is not willing to pay right now.

How do you think the role of women in FM is changing?
I unfortunately don’t see that much of a change. There is a need for more balance between genders in senior FM positions. I do accept this is not always possible in this region until the role of the FM discipline is clearly articulated by the current leaders. There are excellent women profiles in the FM industry who need to be given a chance to showcase their talents for making change.

What are your career aspirations?
Given that I am a woman in the Middle East, I have wholly embraced the cultural shift needed in order to integrate myself into the business culture. It is very important to me that I share knowledge and assist my customers, both internal and external and leave a legacy.

Inna Devani
FM professional

What is your career history to date?
In the Middle East, I have worked with Dubai Media City — TECOM, Nakheel, and Inaya Facilities Management.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
The FM industry is vibrant, serves the customers and most of all, takes care of stakeholders assets. This is the best part of the sector as a whole.

What is the biggest challenge facing the ME FM industry?
Facility managers in the region today are faced with a difficult challenge: businesses are asking for, and expecting, more from their service offering and delivery. This means that preparedness and access to non-traditional skills are now the most pressing concerns for professionals in the industry.

Maintenance and engineering managers continue to struggle to recruit and retain qualified workers for their companies. Challenges include competition from more attractive employers, a low level of interest in trades work, and a shrinking pool of workers with the right skill set and education.

One the biggest challenges is unqualified workers. Some people are great carpenters, or more along the lines of a specialised tradesman. But in reality, a good maintenance technician is a plumber, and an electrician, and a carpenter. It is difficult to find somebody that has all those skill sets at a journeyman level.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
Women are multi-tasked and hence can deliver.

What are my career aspirations?
To work with a challenging organisation.

Lucy Jones
Account manager IFM, Transguard

What is your career history to date?
I’m responsible for managing and operating the development of a portfolio and of bundled service contracts. I manage team structure and develop it as required to ensure the operations runs smoothly and within budget.

Previously, also with the Transguard Group, I was account manager — security from 2008 till 2012. Prior to that, I worked with Monteray Ltd as area facilities manager from 2001 to 2008, covering all aspects of FM for over 200 British Telecom buildings.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
What I like the most is being given an opportunity to create, develop or manage a project which is either new or performing below par. I also enjoy meeting a wide range of people in various facilities and positions and listening to their issues and challenges.

Finding a solution to their problems is immensely gratifying and makes me exceptionally proud of the project team I work with. I do genuinely like working under pressure; personally I feel that brings out the best in a person and lifts performance levels to their optimum. That is just as well, because in this industry, no two days are the same.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East FM industry?
One of the biggest challenges I have found is that the systems, processes and procedures here in the Middle East still lag some way behind those in the UK. There seems to be a reactive approach to FM rather than a proactive one.

Areas such as PPM are still gaining traction but have a long way to go. Many property managers think they are saving money by not spending on PPM, taking the view ‘if it’s not broke why bother fixing it’.

Another issue that is in many ways unique to this region is customer expectation. In Europe for example, work is carried out strictly in line with agreed contractual terms, whereas in this region personal relationships play a much more important role, and in some cases, can define the exact scope of work, beyond any contractual agreement.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
Over the past 25 years, the role of women in FM has largely been confined to cleaning and housekeeping. However that stereotype is gradually disappearing. It is not uncommon now in the UK to find women working as electricians, mechanics, plumbers, IT specialists, plumbers and security personnel as well as other support services in HR and accounts.

It is still rare for women to fill these positions in the Middle East, but that has a lot to do with social attitudes and cultural differences rather than opportunity and ability, but I think the area in which women are definitely making inroads is in managerial positions — both operational and planning.

What are your career aspirations?
I would eventually like to be a managing director of an FM company. I know there are many rungs on the corporate ladder to climb, but I am keen to progress and I am currently studying for my level 5 Diploma in FM through BIFM.

Eileen Green
Head of owner services, TFG Asset Management, a division of The First Group

What is your career history to date?
A lifetime in property. I joined The First Group in 2009 managing high-end, luxury residential, commercial and hotel property. I encountered quite a contrast after 20 years in the UK social housing sector where property tends to be basic.

Managing property is about people and I soon found that you need the same skills to deal with the rudimentary or 5-star opulence. At The First Group I answer first and foremost to unit owners; essentially my job is to deliver their objectives.

This includes ensuring completed projects soon become vibrant and thriving operations, establishing interim Owners Associations, registration of title and providing great customer service to The First Group’s owners – virtually all of whom are overseas based.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
That it’s about people. It is vital to understand technicalities but at the core, FM is a synchronisation of people so that systems and buildings work to suit them. I love to communicate so working in FM is great for me; that, and the fact that no two days are the same.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East facilities management industry?
We need to overcome the common misconception that FM is an optional cost when actually it is an essential investment. I cringe when I hear it said that you do not need to maintain during Defects Liability Period (DLP). You do.

Is the role of women in the industry is changing?
I predict that over the next 10 years we will see more women in senior positions given the maturity of today’s professionals. I encourage women starting out to seize every education and training opportunity, build strong networks and engage with affiliations like the Middle East Facility Management Association. There is room in the C suite with the men.

What are your career aspirations?
I am proud of my career; I enjoy the magic mix of people and property. I want to spread the magic so others can enjoy a career as long and fulfilling as mine.

Linda Engstrom-Condon
Senior consultant, AECOM

What is your career history to date?
I spent eight years in London working in the FM industry for prominent firms, including Standard & Poor’s and CB Richard Ellis. I was recruited by Emaar Properties as commercial manager in Dubai, where I spent almost three hectic, but incredibly fun, years. I joined Davis Langdon, an AECOM company, in 2010.

What do you like most about the facilities management industry?
I really enjoy the variation. FM applies to all industries and all types of properties and environments.

It’s so much more than maintenance and cleaning. I particularly enjoy the challenge in the commercial aspects — increasing service levels and reducing cost, preferably at the same time. Because the industry is so varied and broad, FM demands individuals who can think on their feet and apply their expertise at a moment’s notice; this is a challenge that I really enjoy.

How do you think the role of women in the FM industry is changing?
As long as you’re good at what you do, gender isn’t relevant. Having said that, it’s great to see the number of women in senior FM positions increase, although there’s always room for more.

Parris Ullrich
Manager of client relations, IDAMA

What is your career history to date?
I initially began my career in property management in Australia in 1995 where I remained until relocating to Dubai in 2006. Upon seeing the amazing development of the market here, I decided to broaden my experience and skills by moving into FM.

What do you like most about the industry?
I like the everyday challenges and their diversity and unpredictability. You have to be ready and willing for anything at any time and quickly find solutions no matter what.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Middle East FM industry?
Client education. In many cases the client is still relatively ill-informed of the many advantages of a well-maintained facility and the benefits that it can have in the long and short term to their investment and the investment of their clients.

How do you think the role of women in FM is changing?
The percentage of women involved in all levels of FM is growing rapidly as it becomes increasingly evident that women are equally capable of initiative, productivity and leadership. Personally I’ve never faced any challenges due to gender.

Your career aspirations?
I am keen to continue developing my skills and experience to bring substantial business and recognition to my employer through best practice in all areas. These are exciting times in an exciting region; you can never be sure of what is around the corner.

The Women in FM forum
Photography by Murrindie Frew

The Women in FM forum was launched in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2009 when Joanna Saward (currently business development manager at Macro International) re-started networking meetings did it really take off in full swing.

Members on her mailing list (around 75) are encouraged to meet on the first Wednesday of every month at the Lime Tree Cafe in Al Quoz, Dubai.

“I’m feeling a bit old now because the forum has been running for a while now — Becca [former editor of Facilities Management Middle East] set it up back in 2007, and it lost its momentum for a little bit but we’ve been getting together now regularly since 2009,” says Saward.

Saward explains that the women who attend the meetings come from “all walks of FM life”, including suppliers, service providers, consultants, recruiters and so on.

In addition to the informal networking, Saward invites someone to attend the meeting to give a short, informal presentation to the group, or discuss a topic which she thinks might be relevant and of interest to the members.

Saward adds the level of support in the forum is great, and for some it has even turned into a successful business story. Rukhsana Kausar, co-partner of Liquid of Life followed up a meeting from one of the sessions into a contract win for her water filtration products at the Dubai Metro stations.

Anyone interested in joining the forum, either as a member or signing up as a speaker is more than welcome. Interested parties can contact Saward at

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