On International Women’s Day 2022 (IWD 2022), Jenna Pollock, ABM UK’s divisional director for Scotland, tells FM Magazine fostering gender diversity is crucial to the future of facilities management.
Q. The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 (IWD 2022) is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow” – in recognition of the contribution of women and girls to a more sustainable future. Are women being drowned out in the dialogue on climate-change?
A. The issue of female representation within the climate change conversation is of course innately linked to the wider problem of gender bias. It’s everywhere you turn – not only are the majority of people who are displaced by climate change women, but of those significantly affected by the pandemic, the majority are also women.
The upshot is that we still need more women in boardrooms and in positions of influence to be able to contribute to these conversations and readdress the balance. Our industry has made great strides forward but of course, there is still a way to go. The events of the past two years have driven us to ensure we keep women in their roles and protect a diverse workforce with the ultimate goal of increasing future representation.
Q. What is ABM doing to develop women in leadership?
A. Fostering gender diversity is crucial in this and an important consideration when structuring our business. We monitor gender diversity and put practices into place that support a more diverse workplace. For example, we founded and implemented an approach to workplace flexibility called WorkWays; a process that all ABM employees go through to ensure hybrid working or working from home was implemented if it was wanted and could be achieved.
In addition, we operate Leading a Team courses, Management Development Workshops with several topics and a mentoring programme, all focussed on elevating our inclusivity and diversity aims.
We also have formal six-monthly Grow Perform Succeed meetings; I love these meeting as they are not like traditional appraisals. Instead, they are 70% focused on the individual, their career aspirations and development rather than leadership focussed. From these sessions, individuals have the opportunity to go through six SIGMA training degrees or enhanced management courses. For us it’s all about giving our teams, including the women therein, every opportunity to progress.
Q. Is the group doing anything to make female voices heard in local communities?
A. One of the major investments we have made is the creation of our Junior Engineering Engagement Programme. The J.E.E.P aims to tackle misperceptions of the facilities management (FM) industry amongst young people and their parents and create a pipeline of future technical talent. It has had over 530 graduates from 23 schools since 2017. One of the main focuses is to ensure young women are attracted to our industry on a local level, with female ABM team members joining the sessions to inspire the young people. ABM has stipulated that at least 50 per cent of each cohort has to be female and in fact, our latest cohort was 64 per cent female.
All ABM team members are also encouraged to dedicate time to volunteering, and one of the things I have taken on board is school mentoring in Scotland through an organisation called Braveheart. This kind of activity helps with that all important issue of representation.
Q. ABM’s approach to sustainability is based on addressing the needs and expectations of clients, employees, vendor partners, distributors and the communities the company serves. What are the challenges of catering for diverse stakeholder expectations?
A. ABM in the UK has established a sustainability plan to reflect the UK marketplace together with key performance metrics which measure what matter. We continue to measure the views and needs of stakeholders including clients, team members, supply chain and the communities in which we work.
However, sustainability is not just a journey to suit the organisations we serve, it is our journey too. The challenge is to ensure we measure ourselves as well as the market. We have our own sustainability outcomes which help us to reduce our impacts on the environment and increase our impacts in socio economic terms. This means we are delivering so much more in terms of value to our shareholders and our team members’ health, wellbeing and personal growth. We see this as key in supporting the needs of the future, our clients and society.
Likewise, it’s crucial to have a national as well as a local view. Our community engagement activities provide our teams with the latitude to contribute to national volunteering and charitable endeavours whilst also providing the freedom to participate and support local community organisations.
The challenge is how we capture our contributions and enhance the benefit we provide. This is not an unusual problem for organisations. Historically a local team who has started engaging at a local level experience positive mental health and wellbeing effects; but encouraging people to record their efforts in terms of the time and donations provided (not all financial) is often seen as secondary. To make this process easier, we have introduced our ABMCares philanthropic system which encourages our teams to record their efforts. In doing so, they qualify for matched funding from ABM for their chosen charities and volunteer organisations of up to £775 per person.
Q. How does client demand for gender diversity or sustainability impact on the way ABM operates?
A. The UK market is now driven by sustainability and social value. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, bought societal and environmental issues sharply into focus and the UK is now working to deliver the Net Zero Plan by 2050 by Government policy. This means that we need to eliminate emissions from all operations including that of the supply chain by 2050.
Not only that, but reflecting society’s demographics at its most fundamental level and having systems in place to support those facing challenges whilst building aa career were also all brought into focus during the pandemic. We saw working mothers become marginalised as they juggled maintaining a stable family life, being chief educator and entertainments officer all whilst working remotely in either a functional or leadership capacity.
Our clients have also recognised these aspects and are driven by the same requirements. They, like us, need to demonstrate continual improvement to meet the needs of UK policy and the requirements of institutional investors and financiers who need to ensure that their investments in the assets of the UK are in a safe pair of hands. Our success, in part, drives the success of our clients which is why clear communication and collaboration is key.