Human Resources, Maintenance and Operations, Training

How Employers and Employees Can Help Women Advance in Facilities Management

To help celebrate Women’s History Month in March and International Women’s Day on March 8, the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) hosted a live webinar event on March 6 entitled “Mentorship and Empowerment: Insights on Advancing Women in Facility Management.”

Report Findings

The event focused on presenting and interpreting the results of the latest IFMA research project, “Factors Impacting Retention and Advancement of Women in Facility Management,” released on March 5, to improve workplace conditions for women.

The project was the result of a partnership between IFMA and the Simplar Foundation, a group of researchers and educators from Arizona State University, the University of Kansas, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of Oklahoma, Washington State University, Western Illinois University, Bringham Young University, and Texas A&M University.

The project’s lead researchers, Dr. Steven Call, who serves as an assistant professor at Washington State University, and Dr. Jake Smithwick, who serves as an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, talked with four female panelists during the webinar who work in various senior-level positions throughout the world in the facilities management field.

Why Focus on Women?

While some questioned why the team focused on women, Call explained, “There is myriad evidence really supporting the benefits of gender diversity within the workforce,” adding, “Women have been historically underrepresented in facility management and it has not been improving over the years.”  

According to the report, only 25% of those working in facilities management in North America are women.

And there are “higher rates of women leaving the profession compared to their male counterparts,” Call said, noting that this is true even when factoring in education, pay, and employer demand.

Why Do Women Leave Facilities Management?

According to Call, the research shows the two biggest reasons women leave facilities management are child care and elder care, and most of those who left did so because of a lack of child care.

Other factors that cause women to leave include sexual harassment, pay dissatisfaction, job insecurity, age discrimination, inflexible work schedules, and burnout.


To encourage women to stay in the facilities management field, panelists discussed recommendations for both employers and employees:


Rebecca Arguedas, MBA, President of the United Facility Services Costa Rica, advocates for family-friendly policies, including flexible work schedules, to accommodate children’s schedules, as well as open communication between employers and employees.

If “we are looking for a better quality of lives, we have to start with our own teams so we are speaking about their mental health, we are speaking about wellness, and that’s what we should be doing. Empathy, technology, flexibility, and communication—that’s what we need to do,” Arguedas said.

And Smithwick added, “This is more about a parenting concern and less about a woman’s concern.” 

Laurie Gilmer, PE, CFM, President and Chief Operating Officer of Facilities Engineering Associates and a former IFMA chairperson, said improved technology as a result of COVID makes it easier for facilities professionals to work from home.

She added employers could “provide a child care directory by having relationships with local child care providers” or have an on-site day care employers could pay for using tax credits.


Linda Besetzny, CFM, Director of Global Facilities at R.J. O’Brien and head of the career services program at the Chicago Chapter of IFMA, suggests that all facilities professionals become or seek a mentor.

And if they do, she notes, “It’s very important to set a schedule and meet with them maybe every two weeks or once a month.”

Adding to that, Gilmer said, “Mentors don’t have to come in formal packages, and you don’t need someone to necessarily tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘I want to be your mentor.’ If they do that, that’s great.”

Mentorship not only helps employees deal with work issues but also allows them to grow to become leaders, Gilmer added.

Clare Wait, MBA, Chief Facilities and Information Technology Officer at Georgetown University in Qatar, supports mentorship but wants to learn more.

“I think there’s value in doing further research, particularly on the difference between mentorship and coaching and whether there is a difference or whether that needs to be structured or how it would be structured,” she said.

Learn More

To hear comments from panelists and attendees and for more information from the report, watch the entire webinar by clicking here. Also read an exclusive “FM Perspectives” op-ed from a board member at the advocacy group Women in Facility Management (WIFM) here.

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