Women with a passion for hands-on work who want to make a difference are breaking into facility management and proving themselves invaluable in the historically male-dominated industry.
Succeeding in the industry takes drive and a willingness to learn. Advice and mentorship from leaders who recognize and celebrate one another as they help push the industry forward doesn’t hurt either.
Isabel Wormington, a maintenance department manager, and Shanna Graham, an HVAC apprentice—both with SSC Services for Education—share their experiences and insights for other women looking to enter, advance, and lead the facility management industry.
How do women enter the industry?
Isabel Wormington: It’s not uncommon for those in facility management roles to have begun their career elsewhere. My professional journey began when I started working in retail, followed by an education in psychology and human resources development. I leaped into the facilities industry when I accepted the role of maintenance coordinator at Texas A&M University for SSC.
While I never predicted that I’d rise to a leadership position in facility management, I’ve spent years learning, leading, and finding my passion. Now as maintenance department manager, I know that the viewpoints and life experiences you bring to a new industry are valuable contributions.
Shanna Graham: I have been interested in the skilled trades since I was in my early teens. My dad was an electrician, and he also worked in the oil fields, so it was something that
was always interesting to me. I liked that it was an interactive field that engaged my brain and body and was something that would keep me on my toes.
When you try something new, like entering the skilled trades as a woman who has no experience, you never know how you will be accepted or how people will react. You’re going to be scared when you try something new—it’s inherent to human nature. It’s a matter of never letting that fear stop you.
How can women overcome the challenges and get hands-on experience?
Wormington: As someone who started at the bottom and worked my way up, I’ve learned that working in facility management comes with unique challenges, especially as a woman. There is always a learning curve, especially when shifting to a new industry. If you approach your work with an open mind, the willingness to get your hands dirty—literally and figuratively— comes naturally. In facilities, there is a significant difference between knowing how processes, systems, and business operations work and seeing how they work firsthand. Being open to hands-on
learning with building aspects like HVAC, plumbing, and construction means a greater understanding of the functionality, safety, and sustainability of facilities.
Graham: Apprenticeships come with hands-on training and learning. When I started, I was more of a helper. I watched other technicians do the work, handed them tools, and listened to them explain why they were doing things, how they were doing things, and how they would troubleshoot to figure out what was wrong.
After I watched for a while, the technicians training me started handing me tools and directing me on how to do it myself. Eventually, they were just there to answer questions, and I
had the opportunity to practice and show what I had learned. Someone was always nearby as I was training. Getting this hands-on experience was the best way for me to learn.
What are the advantages of company support and a strong team?
Wormington: Working in facility management takes teamwork—it’s impossible to manage a facility entirely on your own. Strong leaders build strong teams by being communicative and intentional as they delegate the workload and direct skilled laborers and other professionals on a daily and weekly basis. With many hands needed for successful facility management, trust in your team members is paramount.
Graham: My apprenticeship program with SSC provides a lot of support. Everyone I work alongside has been very supportive, which is crucial in the industry. It’s important to have a team that will always be there to help. While I do jobs on my own now, I know that if I need help, I can ask anybody on my team in the HVAC shop.
How can women empower others?
Wormington: It takes women working together across all facets of facility management to better understand and reduce the challenges we experience both in and outside of our industry. Collective empowerment propels us to continue to learn, grow, and contribute to our organizations.
Graham: I want to encourage more females to get into the trades. I would even encourage more males to get into the trades, because they aren’t as up-and-coming as they used to be, but the
industry needs skilled workers.
Women working in trades can definitely face a stigma, but that stigma typically comes from an outside point of view. If females join the industry and put in the work, more likely than not, everyone will be supportive. I’ve never had anybody try to tell me that I can’t do it or that it will be too difficult because I am a woman.
Are mentors necessary?
Wormington: I have so many people whom I look up to in my field. I have leaned on their expertise throughout my time working in maintenance. I now know that seeking out a mentor—and becoming one—is a critical piece of career development. Asking questions and sharing knowledge at all levels of a business, especially between mentors and mentees, fosters open communication that encourages a more functional and efficient working environment.
The sharing of advice between women in facility management inspires dedication and loyalty to our field, encourages us to constantly learn and improve, and teaches us that we can lead with conviction and empathy. Facilities large and small are managed effectively and efficiently every day for the benefit of our communities. I believe a part of that is a result of the recognition, celebration, and collective impact of an increasing number of female leaders in the industry.
Graham: The majority of people I work with right now are mentors to me. I also have an assigned mentor whom I connect with on a regular basis. This has been crucial in developing my skills .
In this industry, it is important to listen and learn as much as possible. I’ve found that there are others in this field who are willing to help. Don’t be afraid to take it. Asking for help isn’t a sign of
weakness. It shows strength to acknowledge that you can learn so much from those around you.
The ISSA Hygieia Network provides educational, networking, and mentoring opportunities for women in the cleaning and facility management industries. Visit hygieianetwork.org.