With more than 400,000 employees at more than 34,000 sites in 80 countries, staff development and growth is a tall order at Sodexo. As one of the world’s largest multi-nationals, the hospitality company has taken on gender parity from within through a training and mentoring approach.
Just after World Facilities Management Day in May, HR Dive spoke with Angela Johnson, vice president of facilities management service development, about mentoring employees — particularly women — in the male-dominated field of facilities management, or FM.
Priorities at the hiring stage
"Facilities management is in dire need of more women, especially at the front lines," Johnson said. "We have a large age gap of people retiring: the focus is bringing more women into the space." Gender balance goals are an imperative from the C-Suite and leadership. Women account for 34% of the company's senior executives and 43% of its managers. Promoting from within is key. "Because of this," said Johnson, "turnover looks misplaced, but it’s strategic. We’re bringing them in and outfitting them with the tools they need to grow."
During the hiring phase, Sodexo opts for a balanced panel of interviewers and candidates; it also partners with talent acquisition to ensure they know what the facilities management team needs. "It’s a system of checks and balances," said Johnson.
How training advances women
Employee business resource groups (EBRGs) are one strategy that has worked well for the company. One in particular, called So Together, is focused on women, but has men and women on the team – and such groups need everyone, Johnson said. "The goal is to help leadership of women throughout the organization with mentoring, sponsorships and advocacy," she explained.
Johnson is co-chair of the FM Taskforce, which focuses on women on the front line in FM. "They need more opportunity for networking and communication," she said, "so we’re building and have built internal spaces for them to share and communicate." They pull together breakfasts and conference calls to help members of the group improve and influence their position. Mentor groups are available for women who want to help with everything from soft skills to management development.
Driving external talent into a non-traditional field
To bring in more women from outside, the She Works job shadowing program lets women in any age group learn more about what the company is doing and specifically about FM careers. "We partner with minority organizations and community groups to show women, especially women of color, the opportunities we have for them. In the first year of doing it, we’ve already hired a few women who went through the program," Johnson said. "What we’ve seen in the DC area, where our headquarters are, is a shift in thinking. Working with groups who help single mothers or victims of domestic violence in the region, we’ve seen women come through and realize this is something they can do. It’s not as trade-specific as they thought. These women are coming into the front line ... and the monetary value it has for them is significant."
Separately, the Discover FM team lets a small team have a big reach, sharing photos on social media and writing small blurbs about FM life. Johnson recently started doing presentations about FM at the high school level, too. "I just spoke with a group of graduating seniors who had a focus on STEM. Each one spoke about what they wanted to major in, and even though I hadn’t planned it, for the 11 different disciplines they spoke about I was able to tell them through facilities management, I have had experience in all. Nursing, microbiology, software development, it came up organically, but it was eye opening to see FM touched on all of them."
How awareness helps
Awareness is key for any industry, and FM data is lacking, said Johnson. "It’s not surprising; we finally got a job code from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018," she noted. "We’ve been doing this for years and lobbying for a category but just got our code last year. At least we’re starting to generate statistics now." The data includes manager salaries, which can be six figures across many categories. "Hopefully, we’ll start to see curriculum talk about what the work is," Johnson said; "it’s about time."
With so many schools cutting curriculum in vocational and trade areas, the industry relies on associations to raise awareness. Many students are looking for avenues other than college. "We need to focus on high schoolers," she said, "career days and vocational schools, not just for FM, but all the skilled trades."
Retention is key
Mentor programming has a huge impact, Johnson said. Employees can sign up for a 1-year mentorship program to grow their network and even cross-train in a different field. For those that don't have time for a formal program, they can participate in an online space where employees can ask for help in specific areas.
"Meeting others like themselves is helpful," said Johnson. For those who are the only woman at their location, connecting with women beyond their location builds networks and communication. Connections include a program called Opportunity FM Heroes, which allows employees to nominate each other for recognition.
"We look for options to motivate," said Johnson. "It’s money, of course, but it’s also awards and vehicles to show you’re listening and care. Giving employees a presence in a company that’s so large shows our staff they have a voice. But more, we want them to be able to showcase themselves as a talent leader."