Those who work in maintenance and facility management know that women are a minority in maintenance. But why is that? Why is maintenance still predominantly male? And how can we turn this around?
We started by investigating why there are so few women in maintenance. After this “root cause analysis”, we came up with 8 strategies that you can apply to hire more women, retain female talent in your company, and even the scales.
Why are there so few women in maintenance and facility management?
“They don’t want to.”
If your first instinct is to say that nowadays there are no women working in Maintenance because “they don’t want to”… Try again. On the one hand, we cannot ignore the fact that women are not encouraged to pursue these types of careers. But on the other hand, the numbers reveal another reality:
61% of female engineers have already been discriminated against at work
52% feel that they have less recognition than their male colleagues
Among female students:
72% fear that motherhood will be an obstacle
68% anticipate sexist comments at work
56% are convinced that they will suffer discrimination at work
49% believe that they will get less recognition than their male counterparts
Against this backdrop, is the lack of female candidates really that strange?
As long as women experience a hostile environment in the manufacturing, innovation, and technology sectors, it will be impossible to create more balanced teams. If your company is struggling with a lack of female candidates, at the end of the article you will find several tactics to recruit female talent and deconstruct some of the fears that young women who are about to enter the job market have.
“Maintenance is men’s work.”
Is maintenance inherently sexist? To understand why it is a predominantly male sector, we have to go back to the early days of maintenance. Initially, maintenance consisted mainly of reactive maintenance. In other words: repairs that required immense physical strength and for which men were, in the beginning, more suited.
We know that today reactive maintenance is a small part of the job. We are moving towards more and more planned maintenance, even predictive, where the physical strength argument is not valid. On the contrary, the need to master technical issues will be amplified. So, there is no reason to perpetuate the cycle and continue to exclude women from maintenance.
On this subject, it is interesting to look at a study published in Brazil in 2016:
- Only 20% of companies had women in the maintenance department. (In the United States, only 5% of industrial maintenance technicians are women.)
- Among the reasons for not hiring women, according to managers, were “lack of demand” and physical strength
- 17% said they “don’t hire women” because “there would be nowhere to station them” and “you can’t hire someone with physical limitations“
According to the managers:
- Most would hire for organisational/planning and leadership/management roles as they associate women with characteristics such as more attention to detail, organisational ability, and carefulness.
- Among those who did not employ women, there was the perception that “there is no prejudice” and that it is “an activity for men” (in equal percentage). Other managers considered that it was due to a “cultural issue“, “relationship problems [with the male public]“, and their “physical fragility“.
According to the operators:
- Instead of mentioning “female characteristics”, most operators consider that the most important aspect is to be qualified. They consider that women can be hired in all areas, even the more technical ones.
- Most of them recognise that there is a prejudice of it being a “men’s activity” and, much more than the managers, they recognise that there is a culture of male chauvinism and prejudice.
Therefore, there seems to be more resistance from those who recruit than from the teams. Incidentally, mixed teams perform better, according to a study by the University of Copenhagen. With this in mind, we also point out some strategies to change recruitment processes.
“Women stop working.”
We already realised that the lack of women in maintenance can be due to both a lack of female candidates and prejudice in the recruitment process. But once they’ve joined companies, why are there so few women in top positions? In Europe, women only account for 37% of management positions, 28% of board members and 18% of senior directors. Do they really stop working?
We’re back to statistics, this time more focused on how women who have already entered the labour market feel, rather than potential candidates. We used statistics for women working in engineering (and often could hold the planning and organisational positions, which do not require physical strength). We found no study on female maintenance technicians.
- In the UK, 63% of female engineers have experienced unacceptable comments or behaviour (three times more than women working in finance or healthcare).
- 60% believe that men progress faster in their career and only 35% feel they have been treated equally.
To abandon or not to abandon the career:
- Another study in the UK, which focused on the reasons for switching sectors, found that 64% of female engineers felt undervalued (compared to male colleagues) early in their careers. Some 54% felt they were not treated equally to their male colleagues, a much higher percentage than in financial (40%) and healthcare (34%).
- These factors prompt women to consider leaving the profession, a phenomenon also found in the US and Canada.
- According to the Harvard Business Review, 40% of female engineers quit or never actually make it into the profession. There are several who report bad experiences right from the internship (harassment, feeling that are not being “taken seriously”, machismo).
And the cycle just goes on and on:
- Even early in their career, 51% of women feel they have fewer opportunities to progress.
- There are few women in senior positions and many female engineers see themselves as an exception, which means that new applicants have no ‘role models’. Since there are so few, there is also no collective that seeks to change industry practices and behaviours.
- Many female engineers ‘masculinise‘ themselves as a defence and survival mechanism in the workplace. It is possible that female candidates feel they have to adopt certain “masculine” characteristics and behaviours in order to move up the ladder.
Given this scenario, it becomes clear that companies cannot just focus on hiring women. They also need to know how to retain that talent and give them the opportunity to grow.
How to attract and retain more female employees
There are no simple answers to eradicate gender inequality. But we can start “at home”, that is, in our companies. The first step is to search our own conscience: why are there so few women in maintenance? Why do we have so few female candidates, if women nowadays have as much academic training as men?
From the moment we recognise that it is a cultural issue, and when we realise that perhaps the culture of our company is not so inviting for future female candidates, we can start to deconstruct these prejudices and make a collective effort to abandon stereotypes and transform Maintenance and Facility Management into a more egalitarian industry.
Here are some techniques you can adopt to hire women in Maintenance and retain talent in your company:
Use neutral language
Avoid saying, for example, “foreman wanted” and prefer something like “supervisor wanted”. Avoid stereotyped images, because maintenance is no longer only about physical work. Try to use language that does not make the candidates feel excluded beforehand.
Establish objective and transparent selection criteria
Both for new hires and for internal career progression processes, make an effort to have an objective selection process. This not only promotes gender equality but is also one of the main techniques for retaining female talent in your company.
Make periodic performance evaluations
Evaluations are done in an objective manner to prevent women from feeling undervalued and are an opportunity to give feedback. Eventually, these evaluations can also be a criterion for getting into top positions.
Monitor recruitment progress
In extremely unequal companies, it is important to monitor recruitment progress. Understand whether women’s applications are increasing, the reasons why they are rejected, and the retention rate in the company. Only then can you ensure that HR is not biased and that there is an effort to hire women or, at the very least, not reject them because of their gender.
Provide specific training and upskilling for roles where women are in the minority
Globally, there are 40 – 160 million women who need upskilling, especially in areas with the most potential for automation. If they succeed, we will have more balanced companies. If not, the pay gap will widen.
Search for new talent in alternative channels
Instead of posting ads on social media or on platforms with job ads, look for talent in universities, professional schools, or even in Women in Tech groups. If the company is the one making an offer to applicants, it starts to dispel doubts about their culture right away.
Start with apprenticeships
Most women only discover their interest in maintenance during their studies or their first job. So, if you’re willing to collaborate with schools or universities, you’re bound to get some very talented candidates that you can hire and retain in your company.
Make an explicit, public commitment to hire more women
Some companies set targets or quotas – which they make public – to hire more women or other minorities. Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, has committed to having 50% women in senior management positions by 2030. Female leadership is one of the biggest drivers for retaining women on your team.
Here at Infraspeak, we almost always find very disparate statistics for different countries and markets. However, as we have seen, the lack of women in maintenance is a problem that is repeated in all developed countries. It is in our hands to turn the situation around and make companies fairer for female candidates. Let’s take advantage of the digital future that awaits us to blur the differences we inherit from the early days of maintenance.