While providing greater focus on the topic of diversity may at first seem more of an emotive reaction and seen as “a good thing to do”, exploring this more comprehensively shows that there are many practical reasons that should also be considered in more detail.
This is one of the main messages to emerge from the recent discussions conducted with a growing number of FM industry personnel with a particular interest in this area, resulting in the comments included below.
Although progress can be seen to have been made in a number of areas – with the FM sector seen as achieving success in increasing the diversity of the workforce and its managers – the discussion is now turning to examine if this is reflected in senior management teams.
The suggestion for this category came from BDO managing director and head of FM M&A advisory Satvir Bungar MBE, who joined the PFM Partnership Awards judging panel last year.
Mr Bungar says FM has grown and progressed significantly over the last four decades, leading to the traditionally male-dominated sector now facing increased scrutiny in terms of workplace diversity.
“FM employers are starting to state their commitments to improving diversity, recognising that bringing in more people from different backgrounds means bringing different viewpoints to a growing field, which could in turn drive innovation within the sector,” he continues.
“But there is still much more work to be done. A recent government-backed review, Race in the Workplace, found that BAME individuals only hold 6% of top management positions in the UK, and said this growth was being curtailed due to poor practices.”
Mr Bungar states that boards fulfil a number of responsibilities and can truly benefit from diversity to help inform discussions when handling growing concerns. Targets and transparency lead to progress, so data gathering and benchmarking are important to rectify this.
“The focus shouldn’t be confined to gender and ethnic diversity. It is encouraging to see that TC Facilities Management, a recent PFM Awards winner, has supported more than 1,000 people with a disability into sustained employment.
"As a judge assessing this entry, this progress was a real eye-opener for me, and the wider sector should be encouraged to pursue similar strategies.
“The business case for diversity is clear. People are our greatest asset and diversity is about making a sustainable and measurable difference to business performance and culture. At BDO, we believe there’s a strong moral and commercial case for doing so,” says Mr Bungar.
Pareto FM managing director Andrew Hulbert joins the debate by stating that one of his “greatest frustrations” is the lack of diversity at senior levels of the FM industry.
“This ranges from gender imbalance and the gender pay gap, through to lack of young people, BAME and LGBT+ representation in senior roles. Fundamentally, when you have groups of people that are all roughly the same age, come from roughly the same background and have faced roughly the same challenges in life, then everybody’s approach to work comes from roughly the same angle,” he continues.
“There is little opportunity for innovative thought to be fostered, as we just go about doing things the way we have always done them, just because we do, and the group consensus is comfortable with this.
"My greatest concern for the industry is that in 20 years’ time we won’t have furthered diversity in the FM sector. Everyone will still look the same and things will be no further forward.”
Mr Hulbert says these concerns were “core reasons” for starting his company and create a service organisation acting differently to other businesses within the FM sector:
“We built a senior executive operations team that has representatives from all the groups listed above to ensure our business delivery is considered from all angles. We believe the make-up of our senior team breeds genuine innovation and delivers us competitive advantage.
“In 2014, we went further and co-founded Tomorrow Meets Today (TMT) with [Sodexo Healthcare business development manager] Sajna Rahman.
"TMT is a charity specific to the FM sector which tackles the lack of diversity head on, promoting the inspirational leaders and future leaders across the sector,” Mr Hulbert concludes.
Ms Rahman adds her views to the diversity discussion by stating that although progression has been seen in the FM sector over the last 20 years “I strongly believe we can do better”.
More recently, recognition for the benefits provided by diversity have been recognised at corporate level.
“It makes business sense and has proven to make businesses more creative, innovative and profitable. I am encouraged by my organisation’s global commitment to progress this agenda. Sodexo are committed to Integrate diversity and inclusion into all functions and core business strategy, so it is embedded into our culture,” she continues.
Ms Rahman further explains that she has learned “that diversity is a mind-set and demonstrated through behaviours and actions. For me fostering an inclusive culture and being rewarded on merits is a magnitude for talent.”
Lack of diversity at senior level can be addressed by “consciously building and investing in a diverse talent pipeline that is representative of the people we serve”, she says.
Further explaining the TMT charity co-founded with Mr Hulbert, Ms Rahman says this stemmed from a shared passion to tackle lack of diversity in FM at senior level:
“This year TMT will focus on attracting young, diverse, non-FM people to the FM sector. The idea is to showcase and introduce FM sector’s young talent to 25 young people from underprivileged communities in a closed networking environment.
“I recognise so many people in our industry make individual contributions to progress the diversity of our sector and we have benefited from it, we have come a long way, but we can do more!
"I would encourage them to continue to make the contributions and act as role models because it is making a difference, especially in the current climate of the increasingly challenging and changing world,” says Ms Rahman.
Additional highly relevant points are contributed by Churchill Services managing director Antony Law, who says: “For me, there has never been any debate around diversity and its standing in workplace culture; it’s simply the right thing to do and makes complete sense that businesses with a diverse mix of backgrounds and skills will thrive.”
He believes there is no doubt a collection of experience and viewpoints within a company puts it in a position of strength in being responsive and adaptive to different customer needs, and states he is certain that a company that promotes choosing the best talent in an industry based on skill set and experience and behaviours, above anything else, is best placed in attracting prospective employees and another example of gaining the competitive edge in a challenging labour market.
“We all know the labour market is becoming more competitive, and the UK’s demography will continue to evolve, but we should not limit ourselves to thinking of diversity in terms of age, gender, or ethnicity.
"We should also think of it as different viewpoints and contributions; what could be called diversity of thought,” Mr Law continues.
“Embracing new ideas, experiences and opinions from varied sources is much more likely to drive innovation – something our customers are crying out for.
"This is something I would like to champion within the FM industry, which despite some progress has more to do.
“As we rightly push for greater representation across the board, we must also be considering individuals with expertise from outside our industry as this will help us to not only adapt but lead,” says Mr Law.