How I Learned to Excel in a Male-Dominated Workplace
In facilities management only 10% of the leaders are women and it’s not hard to see why it’s traditionally been dominated by men.
When I started out as a young civil engineer, if you were on a project, you were expected to work long hours and be on-call 24 hours, ready to drop everything and return to the site. One of my first jobs was overseeing a remote construction project where I was the only woman on site. Working alone as the only woman in a remote environment, I wanted to feel more confident, so I started kickboxing. This definitely boosted my confidence, taught me skills to defend myself, and provided me refuge for a much-needed mental recharge as an added benefit.
Throughout my career, I tried not to focus on being a woman in a traditionally male role and thought of it as just background noise. I rose through the ranks and worked with and was supported by many terrific, professional men colleagues.
But I never talked about my unease of being a female engineer. In a profession dominated by men, I thought I could achieve more by blending in, being one of the guys. I ignored the fact that I remained the only woman in meetings and I didn’t even realize my need for a female mentor until my first pregnancy. At that point, it would have been nice to have someone who understood the personal and professional challenges I was facing as a young mom. I was lucky enough to eventually find that person and her support and guidance helped me excel.
Eventually, I landed at a company—Sodexo—where gender parity is openly discussed and strived for. This made me think differently about my field and my role in it. I realized that the background noise was not going away.
I don’t need to spell out the business case for gender diversity for Catalyst readers. We know how much better workplaces are when there is gender parity and diversity and inclusion are embraced. I want my industry to reap these benefits.
The lack of women remains, I think, because of the industry’s reputation as male-dominated and unwelcoming and because too few have spoken up. The industry is changing, and it’s becoming a better place for women to work. These days, technology affords us more opportunities and more flexibility for work-life balance. The hours on-site have become less important than innovative solutions to the issues.
I love my industry and I think it is one with incredible opportunities for people with different skills and different work-life requirements. It’s complex and challenging. There are many companies like mine, where there’s ample room for innovation and career growth.
This new perspective is why I’m starting to talk more candidly about my experiences, and why I have joined Sodexo’s SoTogether female resource group. Women’s ERGs are incredibly valuable and essential, not least because women understand our issues and can help each other.
I want to bring up other women in the field. The way I now see it, part of my job is to work toward greater diversity in facilities management. Catalyst has a great saying, “Don’t fix the women; fix the organization,” so, in closing, I have two pieces of advice for the facilities management industry:
- Incentivize women to join the field by promoting the various career paths available. The sector includes many leadership, technical, data analytics, and customer-facing roles that can improve work-life balance.
- Improve your pipelines to leadership so that women considering our industry have other women to look up to. Having women mentors made a huge difference for me, so highlight who you have and work to add more.
While things have certainly improved significantly since I began my career, we still have a long way to go. I can’t say I am completely comfortable being vocal, but I realize it’s necessary to bring that background noise to the forefront and deal with it. Success, as I see it, is when I no longer represent women in facilities management and engineering, because there will be so many others like me.
VP FM Service Development & Deployment, Sodexo
Melinda Gorgenyi is the VP FM Service Development at Sodexo, responsible for development and deployment of global facility management offers. She has a strong operational background and works closely with digital teams to integrate existing tools with new global technologies. Her focus is to improve value to the customer and strengthen Sodexo’s market position. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.