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Interview with Debbie Bond

Debbie Bond enjoyed a nine-year career working in business development for major Australian facilities companies, before starting her own consulting business. Last year, Facility Perspectives magazine caught up with her to chat about her career highlights and her thoughts on diversity within the industry. 

What attracted you to the facilities management industry?
I must admit, I think I really fell into it, rather than actively choosing FM. I was lucky enough to receive two job offers within weeks of arriving from the United Kingdom. I came from the building industry, so one offer was from that sector, and the other was from a female leader in FM. When she counter-offered to get me on board, I thought, ‘Wow, she is really backing me and I have no experience in this industry – I feel like I am going to be really well supported if I choose FM’. I have never looked back.

What is the best thing about working in the FM industry?
The range of opportunities is huge. In my first year in FM, I worked on multimillion-dollar public-private partnership projects; worked through the night with a big team for a tender deadline; travelled to four major cities; and spent two weeks running the mobilisation of a remote mining camp! What other industry gives you that range of working environments and range of skills?

Do you have any concerns about diversity in the FM industry?
The strongest and most determined women I know work in FM and are successful, so I don’t actually think that diversity in terms of gender is a major issue, though more representation at a senior level in the larger organisations would balance decision-making. What I do see, though, is a lack of younger people choosing FM as a career. Our industry has a lot of mature, experienced professionals, so we all have a responsibility to bring the next generation up.

How do you think the FM industry could improve its diversity?
I was lucky enough to attend the European Facility Management Conference (EFMC) for the last two years in Europe, and I met a number of young students doing FM degrees. What surprised me was their choice to study FM over core subjects like hospitality (which was my degree!). When questioned about it, their response was that FM was a broader career opportunity, and the women felt it matched their skill set. This is what is lacking in Australia; we haven’t developed that culture yet, or really targeted the student population.

Despite low representation, the number of women in FM has been steadily increasing over the years. What do you believe is the reason for this?
The new role of FM is about creating partnerships and being a trusted provider that comes up with solutions, rather than a reactive, traditionally back-office role. That’s a huge step forward, and is an exciting change. I feel that women are well suited to deliver that change; we are good at listening and being empathetic to people’s needs, and then building a relationship based on trust. Both sexes can manage the technical side, but I think that the changing role of FM is opening it up to a more gender-balanced opportunity.

In addition, having worked alongside a number of women in the FM industry, the one overriding strength I see is support and encouragement – I’ve never experienced it in any other industry. When I started my business, my first few opportunities came from other women in the industry reaching out to me. It could be because of the size of the talent pool, or the industry traditions that we face, but the women in FM have strong rapport, and years later, we still all look out for each other, and encourage development and promotion. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

What advice do you wish you had when you first started, and what advice would you give to other women interested in joining the industry?
I think I saw FM as a job-based industry rather than a career-based industry, which was wrong, as I have achieved my long-term ambition because of FM. Perhaps I may have progressed faster if I had been more aggressive in my pursuits, or had set a path to follow, rather than fumbling my way through! I think having a strong mentor who had achieved what I wanted would have sent me down the right path earlier on. That would be my advice now: use your network, and associations like the FMA, to find someone in the industry who has achieved what you want, and follow their guidance.