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The Future in Field is Female: How to Cultivate Diversity in Field-Based Industries

The labor participation rate for women in the United States has steadily increased since the plummets we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s perhaps because of that positive trend that this next statistic will sound so troubling: As recently as last year, women only made up around 31% of all employed persons in field service industries. In some sectors – HVAC, for example – that statistic is a mere 2%.

There’s a lot of speculation right now regarding how artificial intelligence (AI) might alter the job landscape. While much is unknown, this remains true: there is more opportunity and need than ever before for women in field services.

Smashing the Stigma

There is a certain amount of stigma surrounding women in the field service industry. Stereotypes still exist for positions that have historically been male dominated, especially around perceptions of physical strength and technical know-how. There are also perceptions that the nature of field-based work is inflexible, making it harder to balance personal and professional life. And there are very real concerns about safety in the field, especially considering many positions in field service are in lone-worker environments. These challenges often prevent women from considering a role in field service industries – let alone applying for open positions.

But it isn’t impossible. And, the fact of the matter is, field services can thrive from the benefits of having women in the field, in the office and at the leadership helm.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel featuring women in leadership roles across many different field service industries. During that discussion, we talked about the importance of women getting out of their own way. It’s easier said than done, but to overcome any of the challenges mentioned above, women already in the field must first recognize the value they’re bringing to the table with their skills, their opinions and their experiences.

As corny as it may sound, that process begins by making your voice heard. Is your experience being questioned? Be vocal about your expertise, including your willingness to learn new skills. Are you concerned about balancing your personal and professional responsibilities? Tell your employer – or potential employer – upfront. Remember, many field service companies experience high churn, so chances are they’ll want to work with you to meet your needs rather than let contracts or jobs go unfulfilled. Are you concerned about going to jobs by yourself? Ask your employer what they’re able to do to support lone worker safety – even asking if there is technology or processes in place to track locations or signal alerts for duress. Being vocal about these things can positively impact your immediate day-to-day work experiences while helping dismantle stigmas for women potentially looking to join the industry.

Creating Opportunity

Although the labor force is slowly recovering from large-scale shortages seen in recent years, there is still work to be done to attract, hire and retain female candidates within the field service market. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to solve this overnight. But there are several tactics field service companies can implement quickly to bring more women to the industry.

First, look for opportunities where your company can support training and education. This might look like offering apprenticeships or supporting technical student programs at institutions near you. A few years ago, I heard from a security company that explained how they recruit individuals from local schools in their area for a six-week program featuring on-the-job experience. This was a program where recruits actually went to active job sites so they could develop skills in real-world scenarios. These same models can be applied specifically to young women, with the intent of developing interests and skills for future employment in the field.

Perhaps an even bigger challenge is learning how to keep employees – regardless of gender – once you’ve hired them. In some field service industries, annual turnover can be as high as 400%. To help reduce the constant hiring costs these industries see, it’s important to be strategic and flexible when approached with a situation of potential separation. A great example of this might include looking to see if you have other internal operational gaps if an employee comes to you and says they are looking for a change. In the panel I mentioned earlier, industry leader Jenny Schoenfeld shared a story about how she started as a security officer in the field. When she decided to turn in her uniform, the company she worked for at the time countered with an opportunity to work an open position in the office. Now, she’s a chief operating officer at a major security organization.

Rethinking and Revising

One of the biggest questions we hear repeated is “How can we bring more women to the industry?”

The industry needs to improve the visibility of women in the industry. When there are fewer women in the field, it also stands to reason there are fewer opportunities for other women to look to them as an example or a role model.

To help compensate for this, businesses need to rethink their recruitment marketing efforts to help interest women in applying for open roles. This might look like adjusting wording or advertising on job openings to feature women thriving in the work – then adjusting your demographic targeting behind the scenes to specifically deliver those messages to relevant audiences. Be vocal in job descriptions and on the career sites about any scheduling flexibility available, along with parental leave policies and PTO benefits to head off any concerns about work/life balance. Additionally, promote internal advancement opportunities along the way – because remember, just as much as we need women in the field, we also need the benefit of their voices and expertise as leaders in the industry, too.

The Bottom Line

Despite challenges and stigma that exists in the field service industry, women are increasingly making their mark in the field. To cultivate greater diversity – and to benefit from the expertise and skills women are bringing to the table – field service companies must do their part to attract, hire, engage with and retain a female workforce. By working together to smash stigmas, create opportunities and rethink the status quo, we can build a more diverse, innovative and successful industry for all.

Jill Davie started her career at TEAM Software as a summer marketing intern in 1996. At the time, TEAM was a start-up with 12 employees. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Iowa State University, Jill joined TEAM full-time in 1998 as a Sales Associate. Over the next 20 years, she assumed various leadership roles in Sales, Marketing, Communications, Customer Success and Professional Services as the company grew significantly. Jill also served on TEAM’s Board of Directors from 2014 through 2021 when it was acquired by WorkWave. During her board tenure, TEAM transformed from founder-owned to employee-owned to private equity-owned. They also acquired five companies across the globe, expanding their domestic and international market leadership. Currently, Jill serves as the Chief Customer Experience Officer where she is responsible for Customer Success Management, Professional Services and Customer Engagement. She is passionate about operational excellence, engaging directly with customers and attracting and retaining top talent with a people-centric culture.

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