Leading women in FM 2022: Helen Nicholson, HR Director

Leading women in FM 2022: Helen Nicholson, HR Director

  • April 5, 2022
  • in Blog
  • 154

Women continue to break the glass ceiling in facilities management and business, with the percentage of senior management roles held by females over the past five years increasing on average from 25% to 31%[1]. In the first of our Women in FM series, hear from our HR Director Helen Nicholson on her role at SBFM, her career path, and what the future could hold for the industry.

Helen Nicholson, HR Director at SBFM

What is your role at SBFM and what does it involve day to day?

My role at SBFM is HR Director, meaning I am the human resources lead for the group. As a central part of our senior leadership team – which remains one of the most gender diverse in the industry – I am responsible for creating and driving the company’s HR strategy.

From a day-to-day perspective this involves everything from managing our growing HR team, supporting managers with any work related to SBFM’s people and development, employee relations, and TUPE. As well as advising on employment legislation and supporting our colleagues with any concerns or issues they may have raised.

What made you chose a career in FM? Can you tell us about your route into the industry?

For me FM is such a dynamic industry. Having worked in the public sector for many years, I was attracted to the opportunity to make a real difference in an organisation not constrained by the capacity for change, bureaucracy and a risk aversion culture.

My route into FM, however, was more about the organisation than the industry. SBFM offers opportunities for all and an entrepreneurial culture. We have worked hard to create a working environment where employees are motivated to innovate, explore new ideas, and question the status quo. SBFM very much positions its employees’ success as part of the company’s success.

What is your favourite thing about your job/the industry?

One of the greatest things about my job at SBFM is the autonomy afforded to me in my role. I am very much given the independence and opportunity to take ownership of projects and be accountable, while also making my own choices about how I go about my day-to-day responsibilities.

SBFM as an organisation is full of very passionate people across every department. The operatives we have within the business are some of the most committed colleagues I’ve ever come across. Their desire to do an excellent job and provide the best service is inspiring, and each and every individual takes pride in what they do.

What drives you? Why do you do what you do?

I am driven by the desire to support people and get the best out of SBFM’s dedicated team, in order to drive the business forward. People are the lifeblood of any successful company and at SBFM this is certainly the case.

We are dedicated to creating a business that stays true to its commitment to inclusivity and diversity, encouraging everyone to strive to better themselves and reach their fullest potential. In my position as SBFM’s HR Director this means ensuring equality is embedded in all of our activities, policies and decisions.

I am continually focused on creating new initiatives to develop people and the wider business. Such initiatives, it is hoped, will encourage our employees to contribute to an environment in which people feel comfortable expressing how they feel and what they need, knowing they will be treated with respect and that their contribution will be valued.

My biggest drive, though, is my love for SBFM. The business continues to grow, and I genuinely believe we are building something really special for ourselves and our colleagues.

As a woman in FM, what would you say are the biggest barriers you face?

Despite efforts to change this, FM remains a male dominated industry, meaning there is a perception that women don’t fully understand the industry. Even today a lot of the big players in the industry have a fully male board or incredibly low representation of women.

Even when the proportion of females in the business is greater, women tend to be in lower paid roles such as operatives, rather than management. It is imperative that we reframe this and ensure accessibility for all.

Why is gender balance and having a more diverse workforce important, especially in senior management teams?

It is important that all colleagues feel they are represented and understood at all levels, but especially at senior management where decisions are made that affect everyone. If people feel better represented this can drive positive engagement and contribute to a culture of diversity and inclusivity.

Organisations are being naïve if they believe that teams made up of people who are all the same are effective. Diversity brings different perspectives, experience, knowledge and enriches organisations.

Companies that understand the need for transformational and progressive equality, diversity and inclusion must ensure it isn’t viewed as a one-off ‘tick box’ exercise, but rather as an ongoing commitment, particularly as we look to welcome and inspire the next generation of colleagues and leaders.

By doing so we are empowering the future generation of leaders to believe they can achieve any level of status in the industry if they work hard and are committed.

To find out more about Women in FM, and how SBFM is supporting gender equality and diversity, keep an eye on our website or follow our LinkedIn page.


[1] https://www.grantthorntonni.com/insights/publications/women-in-business-2021-a-window-of-opportunity/#:~:text=Our%202021%20research%20has%20shown,woman%20in%20their%20leadership%20teams.