As we commemorate Women’s Day, Alaa AlBoali, Director of MEFMA writes about the challenges she has had to face as a woman in the cleaning and FM industry, how she has seen the gender ratios change, and how women can achieve more.
Challenges faced as a woman
The percentage of women vs men in this industry, especially in FM, is not very high. This holds true, especially in the Middle East. There aren’t many women working in FM, whether hard or soft services, in this region. Even if there are, you’ll see that a very small percentage of them are FROM the Middle East.
When I started my journey with MEFMA, I started meeting people and talking to them about the industry and MEFMA in particular. One of my main challenges was when people would - without even looking at my work - ask me whether I was an engineer and if not, what I was doing in this industry. They simply found it odd that a woman would talk about maintenance or cleaning. As a result, I was not taken seriously a lot of times. The issue was that people from this industry were not used to women working in this field, and they'd automatically assume that we couldn't succeed here. My opinions would not even be acknowledged during some meetings, but the tangible results of my hard work changed opinions - slowly but surely.
I realized all of this at the onset, and had already decided to let my work talk. It wasn’t easy. First, I had to accept the fact that this was how the industry and culture are. If I couldn’t change it, my work would. I was determined to prove my abilities to myself and to them.
Fortunately, a few years later, I was appointed to direct MEFMA. And, I am proud to say that my whole team today comprises women. We are a team of six, and I believe we are very powerful in this industry. This was yet another step I took to overcome gender assumptions - by proving to the industry that my team and I are able to achieve more than what society had in mind or even expected.
I believe it is also important to embrace your femininity - there is no shame in being feminine. A lot of times people attribute our success to ‘working tough like a man’. I disagree. You don’t have to be tough to be able to succeed. You can strike a balance between your emotional and logical side, but you need to embrace yourself as you are - don’t try to be someone else just to fit in!
The industry gender ratio
Throughout my years in the industry, I have seen an improvement in the gender ratio. Another angle to having fewer women in the industry is because of the lack of industry awareness. Women either don’t know about it or don’t know how feasible it is to be part of this industry. That is changing, and I am sure that in the next 10 years, we will see a lot of female leadership in this industry.
As a director of a Middle East association, I am aware of the power and responsibility that comes with my role. I have always ensured that we support industry professionals helping them grow and get on to the right career path. We also try to involve women as speakers at our events to recognize their achievements and be an inspiration for others. Also the assumption that you have to be a man to be in this industry should be completely changed. It also gives me immense pleasure that our board members support these initiatives.
In the beginning, striking the right balance between work and personal life was a bit difficult. I used to work at nights and was completely stressed out. Although I don’t have children, I often think of how mothers manage the work-life balance. They are superheroes!
As I progressed through my career, I saw the need to have a work-life balance because it is important to keep going. I saw the need to take care of myself to be able to give more to the industry and my career. My team has moms and moms-to-be. I witness first hand how well they manage their professional and personal lives. And we support them through it all!
I think it is important for us to give all aspects of our lives the time they require. Strike a balance. Neither one should affect the other negatively. Neither should either suck away your energy.
Advice to women
My advice to women is to believe that they are strong and they can achieve anything they want with passion and dedication. They just need to believe in themselves, do what they are passionate about and not let anything impact their vision. They need to take care of themselves because they’ll be able to do and give more. Support each other for every woman’s success is an inspiration to the other.
About the author
Alaa AlBoali is the Director of MEFMA. She is an achiever - an inspiration for all the women who aspire to lead the cleaning and FM industry. Alaa proudly leads an all-women team and wants to see a more balanced gender ratio in the years to come.