The following article is from Behind the Broom and is written by Judy Gillies, President and Founder of the Surge Group.
There is a growing trend occurring in the boardrooms of the cleaning industry that is incrementally changing the dynamics of how cleaning operations are managed. That growing trend relates to the number of women that hold executive positions in the corporate realm of today’s cleaning enterprises.
Like most businesses today, diversity in the workplace has become an important issue and has opened up not only avenues of debate and discussion, but opportunities for different age-groups, ethnic minorities and, of course, women to step up to the plate and assume executive and management positions they are qualified to hold. Various studies have shown that this growing diversity in the boardroom can offer many benefits to a company including new ideas, varying viewpoints and fresh insights that aid in problem-solving, strategic planning and service enhancement. Such effectiveness has given credence to businesses around the world to adopt a diverse corporate staff and, as such, the windows of opportunity have flown wide open for anyone with the drive, determination, education and experience to advance in their chosen field. Business dynamics are shifting in all industries on a global scale. Needless to say, the cleaning industry is no different.
THE SHIFT BEGINS
For many decades, cleaning has traditionally been considered a woman’s job and at the entry level, it has conventionally provided a pathway for female breadwinners to enter the workforce. Even as current as 2012, Catalyst.org. reported that ‘maids and house-keeping cleaners are a female-dominated occupation in the U.S., with females making up eighty-nine percent of the workforce’. However, the truth of the matter is, the corporate side of the commercial cleaning industry has historically been largely male-dominated. Even today it is apparent, in many boardrooms, that the majority of executive positions are still held by men.
The tide is gradually changing now, as the wave of diversity makes its way through the global markets. The cleaning industry, like all other businesses, is seeing more and more women stepping into executive-level positions and taking the helm as leaders in their companies. Whether the role is as a facility manager, business owner, or cleaning contractor, more and more opportunities are continually opening up for women in the cleaning industry. A large majority of women who have achieved success in the cleaning industry have done so by starting their own cleaning business and building it from the bottom up, or by purchasing/taking over the family business. Franchise opportunities are also beginning to be an option for women. As well, there are well-established companies in which women, with the proper education and experience, can climb the corporate ladder and assume their place in the boardroom.
CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
Starting a new business, taking over an existing business, or working one’s way up to a management position in a company presents many challenges to anyone who pursues that path, but for women in the commercial cleaning industry, there can be greater challenges. Gender-based issues have always played a role in the advancement of women in society. Luckily, in my experience as a female cleaning consultant, women are being encouraged to forge new paths; to go out and get the education, skills and training required to be an effective leader. I see more and more women today gravitating to this career path. They are becoming qualified and applying for cleaning management positions, not only because the industry is seeking diversity, but because it has developed in recent years, a much more professional approach and outlook.
Notwithstanding, it is true that women and men in management in the commercial cleaning industry do face the same business-based challenges. They just have to approach those challenges differently, because they are coming from very different backgrounds with very different points of view. Ultimately, women may have had to work harder to gain their success, but this only makes them stronger, more determined and more capable. In turn, this greatly benefits the companies they represent and adds resilience to the commercial cleaning industry. Fortunately, there are many men out there who recognize this fact and there is a marked increase in the number of qualified women who join their ranks every day.
So how, and where, can women advance themselves? As a vital and ever-expanding service industry, the cleaning corporations of today offer opportunities in management, technology and innovation. Fortunately, there is support available in many forms. Besides being a member of The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association (ISSA), Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI), International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), International Facility Management Association (IFMA), women can also join the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), which allows women from all industries to network and support each other.
FINDING A BALANCE
Numerous studies show that women and men do tend to lead differently in the workplace. Women naturally bring different perspectives and voices to the table, to the debate and to the decisions, and it is that fresh approach and outlook that helps strengthen any team. Flexibility and adaptability certainly seem to be a common thread amongst the women who have achieved notable success in this field. These attributes help to advance change and innovation.
In reality, managing a successful cleaning operation becomes more than just a gender numbers contest. It is about improving business performance by having a rich and varied board that can collectively consider issues and promote effective leadership qualities with a common goal in mind. Having a balanced team of both men’s and women’s perspectives, along with a wide range of different skills, experiences, opinions and lifestyles is a great benefit when it comes to making decisions regarding cleaning operations. With such a diverse board, customers and stakeholders have a better chance of being heard and understood. A higher level of creativity and dedication in solving problems, strategic planning and handling management issues, allows for greater expansion and growth for the company.
Establishing that balance within the boardrooms of the cleaning industry remains our biggest challenge. To inspire other women to take on these positions and carve a brighter path for the future is, hopefully, the legacy all women in the industry will leave behind. The winds of change are coming, with the future of the cleaning industry holding great promise for those who choose to see it. Like the Olympics, we can start looking forward to the day when the industry will have ‘a female on every team’ and that will be ‘truly great’.