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Women to Watch

fmme talks to four women working in the region's fm sector

Accomplished women: "There is no such formula that would equate FM is for men alone, or that women have no space in FM."
Accomplished women: "There is no such formula that would equate FM is for men alone, or that women have no space in FM."

fmme talks to four women working in the region’s fm sector, who, according to their peers and managers, look set for bigger things in the near future

FM’s a man’s world, you say? Try telling that to the women featured on these pages. While there are women working throughout the Middle East’s FM sector, these four females—Carol Tait, Rekha Harikumar, Marilen Oribiada and Anisha Dsouza—are especially noteworthy for having made a significant impression in their line of work.

Smart and talented, these are the women who, according to their peers and managers, look set for bigger things in the future—and they certainly seem to be well on their way to getting there.

For instance, take a look at Marilen Oribiada, survey and transition manager at Farnek. Having worked for more than 16 years in the fields of civil engineering, property management and facilities management, Oribiada says that her time in the FM sector has been a challenging, action-filled one, but adds that it has also been a satisfying and fruitful experience for her.

“Facilities management is a 24/7 commitment and you never walk away from it,” Oribiada says. “Having set my focus in this line has attuned me to have a broad skill-set and to be more pro-active, well-organised and self-disciplined. These are the personal traits that positively developed my whole career.”

Anisha Dsouza, a facilities manager with Macro, is another female FM professional who, according to her company, is definitely “on the way up.” Dsouza agrees with Oribiada’s sentiment about working in the FM sector.

“It’s an interesting and lively profession which suits goal-oriented personalities,” Dsouza says. “Every moment spent is worth treasuring, as every day involves learning. Nothing is deleted from your memory, because everything you learn is implemented and executed every day.”

“The best apart about the job is that you have to think outside the box,” she adds. “The job keeps you on your toes, since your performance is almost constantly measured.”

While Dsouza seems to be fully satisfied with her current career, it’s interesting to note that she used to work for the financial industry before getting into FM. Having moved to the UAE during the financial downturn, Dsouza says that she accepted a FM job after finding it hard to get good opportunities in her original line of work at the time.

But while she may have been new to FM, Dsouza found herself easily fitting in the sector and the work it required of her. “I learnt more about the industry in terms of technical aspects, site activities and end-to-end service delivery, and transitioned from finance to FM,” Dsouza remembers. “Although I didn’t choose a career in facilities management, I started to enjoy it.”

Rekha Harikumar is another FM professional who started working in this field after a career switch of sorts.

She was once a lawyer, but after seven years in the FM sector, Harikumar is today a client relations manager at Idama Facilities Management, a role which sees her focusing on customer satisfaction through the company’s range of integrated FM solutions.

“When I came to Dubai, I wanted to pursue a career in an industry that was sustainable and provided challenging experiences as well as opportunities for growth,” Harikumar says. “I found the FM sector to be a suitable option, as that was during the Dubai property boom and FM was a fairly new but rapidly growing sector in the real estate industry.”

Harikumar remembers the region’s unfamiliarity with FM at that point of time as a particular challenge when she started working in the sector.

“In the beginning, it was difficult to create an understanding about the FM sector, as many were not familiar with the multiple facets of the industry,” she says. “It was viewed as simply maintenance of building fabric or equipment.”

But rather than sitting aside and allowing such misconceptions about the field to foster, Harikumar took it upon herself to educate and inform the people she interacted with about FM and what it entails, not just as a profession, but also about why it is required to maintain the value and lifecycle of a property. This is the same notion that Carol Tait, a senior facilities manager with Emrill, abides by.

“I have always found it easy to communicate to others about what I do,” Tait says. “The FM industry is a service business that is people-oriented, and it really is all about having successful and productive relationships with different stakeholders across the business, including employees and clients.”

Tait, who’s currently responsible for delivering Emrill’s integrated FM services to multiple sites in Dubai, has been working in the FM sector since 1983, based out of South Africa, the UK, and now, the UAE. But despite her many years in this field, Tait continues to be extremely fond of the work she does on a day-to-day basis.

“I am passionate about growing people and enabling teams to feel proud of their collective achievements,” she says. “I am a firm believer that anything that is not continuously improved will move backwards, and therefore, consistent development is what gives us an edge over others and what every client expects.”

Listening to these women talk about FM, and hearing about their accomplished careers in this field, one may even start to doubt the existence of a glass ceiling in this sector.

While all the women interviewed for this article rued about some people’s perception of FM being a males-only field, they were also quick to banish any perceived gender-specific barriers to women taking up FM as a profession for themselves.

“The FM world is a level playing field and both men and woman will always have equal opportunity to fortify their presence,” Oribiada declares.

“There is no such formula that would equate FM is for men alone, or that women have no space in FM. Nowadays, women are known to surpass men in different fields—so why can’t that be the case in facilities management as well?”

Harikumar agrees, saying, “With more and more women working as FM professionals, it is proof that the industry is not cut out just for men. Like many industries, both men and women have equally important roles to play in the development of the sector. Women have provided FM a great advantage by refining industry misconceptions.”

“I believe there are many advantages for women in FM,” Dsouza adds. “In my experience, women are particularly good at multi-tasking and solving problems. Women have more patience; they can easily deal with people who are angry, as they often have a softer approach. I also think they are more understanding, have good people management skills, and many other such good qualities for FM.”

“I think managing people is all about caring and understanding,” Tait says. “It is imperative to understand your employees and exactly what the client wants. I believe women are more attuned to this because of their nature. This is not to say that woman are better—absolutely not—the result can still be the same, but I believe it’s all a matter of how we get there that makes a difference.”

“The FM market is very competitive, and therefore, the better you are at what you do, the faster you are able to grow,” Tait continues. “I believe we never stop growing, and it all depends on how big we can dream, and how we turn those dreams into reality.”

“For woman thinking about working in FM, my advice would be to learn as much as you can,” Orabiada says. “The more information you have, the more expertise you get. Attend seminars and learn, and apply them to the best of your ability. You need to know a little bit about everything in this job.”

But would women need to do more than what would be required from their male peers to make their presence felt in this sector? Dsouza is quick to dismiss that notion as well.
“I don’t consciously do anything to distinguish myself from males,” she declares. “I just do my job.”

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