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March 2020
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Hire Women to Help Lead the Smart Buildings Industry

Huge gap in female leadership across the building technology/management industry. Women represent just 1.4% of HVAC, 5.2% of computer control programmers and operators.
Casey Talon
Casey Talon,
Research Director,
Navigant Research,
A Guidehouse Company

https://www.linkedin.com/in/caseytalon/

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The buildings industry is at a crossroads. The facilities management industry must innovate to transition through an aging workforce. Real estate managers recognize digital technologies are integral to generating the highest asset value. Corporate executives recognize buildings are integral to sustainability success. A changing profile of human capital is the unifying thread for each of these challenges. Recruiting with intention to bolster female leadership in particular, and a more diverse workforce in general, represents a huge opportunity to differentiate many businesses, especially for the building technologies industries.

The Boston Globe recently published data based on US Department of Labor statistics in five categories that underscore the huge gap in female leadership across the building technology/management industry. Women represent just 1.4% of HVAC, 5.2% of computer control programmers and operators, 5.3% or architectural and engineering managers, 6.4% of mechanical engineers, and 7.4% of construction managers.

At the beginning of February, I attended AHRExpo in Orlando, “the world’s largest HVAC marketplace.” The previously mentioned challenges were painfully obvious. There is an exceptional lack of women in leadership. I came to this conclusion, in part, through great discussions during two sessions in which I was a panelist: Building for a Climate Emergency (available on demand here) and Pulling More Women into the Ranks of Smart Buildings Leadership. While diversity extends beyond female leadership, this narrower topic illustrates the opportunity for transforming industry leadership. Here are three steps today’s leaders can take to set their companies up for market leadership.

  1. Recruit with intention and set explicit goals: Be intentional—this was one of the big take-aways from the discussion at AHR. Leadership must recognize the reality of unconscious bias, take steps to counteract it, and be intentional in hiring and promoting female employees. There are many studies outlining the effect of unconscious or implicit bias on recruitment, and complementary programs and guidelines to mitigate it. Executives should institute training and policies around recruitment to set a path to more inclusive hiring practices. Project Implicit, a non-profit collaboration between university researchers, offers testing to identify personal biases. CEOs can also showcase their commitment by participating in initiatives such as CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion.
  2. CatNet Systems Mentor new employees: Once in the door, the work is not finished. Retaining female employees is a second critical action item. According to a 2019 study, more than 40% of women with full-time STEM careers leave after their first child. This point simply underscores the issue of establishing and committing to inclusive policies throughout the employment process, including issues associated with maternity leave. Leadership can also foster the professional development of female employees throughout the hierarchy to ensure continuous improvement in representation.
  3. Showcase an enhanced brand: Finally, encouraging women is good for business, but so is promoting diversity. Studies have shown diverse teams are more effective. Diverse companies are more successful in recruitment–according to a recent study, 37% of millennials consider diversity in their employment decision-making. Diversity is also an important metric in a brand fundamentally impacting the bottom line. In fact, it’s becoming a financial imperative. In January, Goldman Sachs announced the company will no longer take companies public without at least one diverse board member—a powerful signal for a shifting reality.

Savvy facilities managers recognize this market crossroads and take these crucial steps that have far-reaching implications.


About the Author

Casey Talon is a research director with Navigant Research, leading the building innovations program with specific focus on the smart buildings market. Casey has a background in economics, environmental science, and policy and deep experience as an analyst and consultant. Casey has provided consulting services for executive decision-makers on the business challenges related to climate change and sustainability, as well as the opportunities for investment in energy efficiency and smart buildings. Ms. Talon holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a BA in Economics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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