Women as industry leaders

9th of May 2014
Women as industry leaders

In this edition of ECJ we feature a special report on inspirational women in the professional cleaning industry. In it we focus on four women working in different parts of the sector and ask them about their background, their everyday challenges and their ambitions for the future.

The first is Angelica Martinez, who was named the British Cleaning Council (BCC) Site Supervisor of the Year at the 2013 Kimberly-Clark Professional Golden Service Awards. ECJ editor Michelle Marshall visited her at Lloyd’s of London, where she works for Principle Cleaning Services, to find out why she won this accolade.

The presentation of the Kimberly-Clark Golden Service Awards is a major event in the UK cleaning industry’s calendar and the 2013 ceremony at the end of last year in London was no exception. Among the many award winners was Angelica Martinez, who was named the British Cleaning Council (BCC) Site Supervisor of the Year. Martinez works for Principle Cleaning Services at Lloyd’s, the world-renowned insurance market located in the City of London financial district.

The Lloyd’s building is also known internationally for its iconic design. Designed by architect Richard Rogers it is sometimes called the Inside-Out Building because all services – such as ducts, staircases and lifts – are located on the exterior to maximise space in the interior. The building is 88 metres to the roof, with 14 floors and is modular in plan, ie, each floor can be altered by addition or removal of partitions and walls. At its peak there can be up to 6,000 people in the Lloyd’s building and there are large numbers coming and going at all times of the day.

These factors make Lloyd’s a unique cleaning challenge, one which is tackled daily by Principle Cleaning Services. The company has a total of 47 staff on the site and some of the cleaners have been at Lloyd’s for 20 years. Angelica Martinez joined soon after Principle Cleaning took over the contract, when she was brought in to cover maternity leave as a supervisor.

She has spent 15 years in the industry and is now shift manager for the daytime period. Working from 9am to 5pm every day her duties involve looking after the cleaners, the cleaning schedule of the entire building, wages, stores and deputising for contract manager Jason Boyce when necessary.

Boyce explains what he admires most about Martinez. “She always wants to learn and she wants to do a good job,” he says. “With that attitude I believe she will always succeed. Everyone recognises that she leads by example - Angelica runs the contract day to day and arranges any cover where we need it. She has all the information to hand about all aspects of the contract; she deals with staff issues and fills in for me when necessary.”

What really sets Martinez apart, Boyce believes, is the way she manages the cleaning staff. “She gets everyone to do what needs to be done, in that she has successfully created a real team and everyone wants to do their job for her. Staff appreciate how secure and happy an environment this is to work in – and Angelica plays a vital role in promoting their work and thanking them for what they do. She goes the extra mile, well beyond her duties.

“Her people and communication skills are where she really excels and she is outstanding at motivating the team to work efficiently and productively.”

Martinez holds a customer service National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) as well as a housekeeping qualification. Not only that, she has experience in the mental health sector and first aid, both of which she feels help her a great deal in her current role. “My previous experience has really been very valuable because I deal with many people from different cultures, races and religions,” she explains. “That training enables me to see each person as an individual and treat them accordingly.”

She says all her cleaners are polite, helpful and cheerful. “We are like a family,” she says. “That took time to build but my philosophy is that happy people are more productive people.”

The greatest challenge for Martinez, she says, has been in establishing the boundaries between being friendly with her staff, but also firm when necessary. She explains: “It was very much a matter of me building their trust because in previous jobs many of them were not treated so well and nobody ever listened to their opinions and problems. Now, however, everyone in the team enjoys good relationships.”

The Principle Cleaning team regularly holds meetings and gatherings, where they spend time talking, and not necessarily about work matters. The cleaners are often working away from their home country and family, and Martinez is always on hand to offer support. This, she says, has helped enormously with staff turnover, which is extremely low. And she is grateful for the fact the client, Lloyd’s, “gives us the time and support to look after our staff”.

Jack Kent is head of property services for Lloyd’s, which has itself been certified as one of Britain’s Top Employers by the CRF Institute. Why does he rate Martinez so highly? “Predominantly because of the way she collaborates with the rest of our team,” he replies. “An operation such as this has to be run as part of a team effort; it simply would not run satisfactorily in isolation.
“I very much admire her personal and communication skills, how she gets the team enthused and motivated. And she also really understands all the technical aspects of the cleaning operation.”

Kent continues: “Angelica is very much hands-on, leading from the front. I always see her out and about around the building, checking everything is running smoothly and everyone is happy with the standards.”

Angelica Martinez is very obviously a popular and well-respected figure around the Lloyd’s building. However what sets her apart from other site supervisors in the industry and why was she nominated as the winner of the Site Supervisor of the Year award? ECJ spoke to Lesley Parish, who was one of the judges.

What are the judges’ main criteria when judging such an award? “Amongst other things such as good client relationship, managing processes and cleaning expertise, the criteria were based on the supervisor’s people management and leadership skills,” she explained. “This, along with their own enthusiasm, motivation and commitment while having the ability to motivate and enthuse their staff.”

Parish was most impressed by Martinez when she visited her at Lloyd’s as part of the judging process. “I spent quite some time with Angelica and was able to observe her knowledge of the building, her interaction with her staff, the client and customers, and finally the standard of cleaning on site. After all that is one of the supervisor’s most important outcomes, the final result of all their hard work.

“She leads her team by example, being inspirational and encouraging,” continued Parish, “showing them what can be achieved, and how, with dedication and hard work there is also a career path for them within the cleaning industry should they choose.

“Angelica has worked very hard on her own personal development to work her way up, her ambition is endless, and she is a prospective manager of the future.”

Parish went on to explain that Martinez was the overall winner primarily because of her motivational skills to build a great team “who are committed to achieving a common goal, that is to keep the client and users of such a challenging historical building happy with the service delivery”.

In an industry often maligned for its lack of supervisory and management skill it is encouraging to meet people like Angelica Martinez who are daily performing such a demanding role to such high standards for major corporate clients. Lesley Parish concluded: “The cleaning industry is a hard industry where demands are high, and processes and technology are always changing.

"Supervisors need to be able to meet the everyday challenges of increased responsibility and decision-making, therefore coaching and good supervisory skills training are very important – whether on a large site like Lloyd’s or in a small building.”

Lynn Webster is one of the industry’s best-known figures, through her involvement in various international cleaning organisations and events, her active promotion of training for operatives and business role as consultant to some of the UK’s largest blue chip companies.

Lynn Webster has spent 30 years in the cleaning business, working in a variety of different roles along the way. Today she is one of the industry’s best-known figures – she plays a proactive role in trade associations, is a familiar face at conferences and exhibitions around the world and enthusiastically spreads the word about the importance of operative training. For her day job she runs her own business in the north of England offering audit, consultancy and training services in cleaning and facilities management.

During the course of her career Webster has experienced first-hand many aspects of the cleaning sector. Her first job was as a cleaner while she was still at school. “I believe most of us fall into the industry by accident,” she explains. “I had ambitions to go to university and be a dietician, however I failed my A levels to so had to rethink.” That rethink led to her studying hotel, catering and institutional management at college, after which she became a trainee for the National Health Service (NHS). For a year she gained experience

in cleaning, supervisory, junior management. Then came a role as a domestic services manager.
At the age of just 24, then, Webster was managing her own hospitals and had the significant benefit of having been trained to view the operation from all perspectives. “At that time contracting out was big news, and overall seen as a bad move. It was getting bad press and all the trades unions were trying to maintain the in-house style of operation.”

After her time in the NHS Webster joined another of the UK’s major institutions, the Royal Mail. “Cleaning was at the bottom of the company’s structure at that time, and it was controlled by the trades unions,” she explains. “It was failed postmen who became the cleaners. I had to consult with the trades union about any new developments – introducing rotary machines for example. Once again I was working according to civil service protocols, which I was well accustomed to after my time at the NHS.”

It was while she was at the Royal Mail that she first became involved with the British Institute of Cleaning Science (BICSc), and introduced its training programmes into the organisation. “One of my passions even then was giving cleaners an identity, recognition for the job they do,” she says. “Training and certification is a perfect way to do that – it’s official acknowledgement that cleaning is a profession.”

After the Royal Mail came the retail sector, in the form of Boots – the national chain of chemist stores. Webster managed the cleaners there, and at other group stores. It was here she encountered contract cleaning for the first time – the larger stores were contracted out while the smaller ones were handled by in-house teams.

“Working with cleaning contractors for the first time really highlighted to me that agreeing the right specification is absolutely crucial,” she continues. “As a client, if you don’t know exactly what you want how can you expect a company to deliver results for you?

“If we do not determine exactly what we mean by ‘the outcome’ the operation cannot work effectively. Even methods of monitoring, KPIs, benchmarking, etc do not go all the way to solving this challenge. We must have more definition, and we must determine the perception of the client. Our client also has a client and we must ask, what do they think? How much do people care about cleanliness and what exactly do they expect? Do all areas need to look pristine at all times, and can we afford to achieve it?”

Webster adds: “Monitoring is all very well but we must be asking ourselves, what do our scores mean? Are we checking for checking’s sake – ticking boxes?”

So after rationalising contracts at 1,600 stores across the UK she went to work for a large national cleaning company. There she was responsible for auditing, monitoring and setting up BICSc training. “At that company we were cleaning everything from large retail sites down to phone boxes so the job was extremely varied.”

Webster left the cleaning company to work for a consultancy firm, then set up her own business, called LWC, in 2004 – she celebrated her 10th year in business in February and counts many household name companies among her clients. There are three strands to the company: consultancy, audit and training. A typical client, for example, may want to review where they are now in terms of their cleaning operation and commission an independent viewpoint – whether it’s an in-house team or external delivery.

At the initial review she determines the right systems, tools, etc that should be in place and identifies any gaps in training and equipment. She writes and develops specifications as well as offering tendering support.

Alongside this Webster continues to be a vocal advocate of training, particularly the BICSc system, because she firmly believes training goes a long way to improving the status of cleaners. However, she does feel there is a gap in education when it comes to enabling our cleaners to progress further. “We give the cleaners doing BICSc training a good qualification, for example, but not necessarily the right training and skills to be a supervisor. Management level training in the industry is somewhat lacking. Upskilling our people and giving them the support they need must be higher on the list of priorities.

“Then on the other hand we have some executive managers in the sector who are university graduates or who come from other industries and know nothing about cleaning. They cannot relate to the people actually doing the job.”

What does she believe really motivates cleaners? Webster replies: “Money is a driver of course. It is important to them that they get paid accurately, on time. And they should not have to fight for what they are entitled to.

“The right tools for each task also make their job more palatable. And simple things like just telling them ‘thank you’ for a job well done – acknowledging they exist. Letting them know they job they do has worth.”

The situation overall is improving for the cleaner, Webster believes. “Many cleaning companies and in-house operations are now doing excellent work in recognising and rewarding their cleaners. Where the industry is its own worst enemy is in promoting itself to the world at large. The media certainly does not appreciate the work of the cleaning industry but then we do not promote it properly. And this is the case in many European countries.

“Daytime cleaning has certainly alerted the public to the fact the cleaner is there, however the back-up is not always sufficient,” she continues. “For example cleaners who work during the day and interact with people in the building must develop personal presentation skills, a greater awareness of health and safety etc. It’s vital we acknowledge the skills requirement is different and offer the right support to our cleaners.”

What about the clients in terms of how they perceive the cleaning operation? “Some do now see cleaning as being crucial to their business and have every respect for the teams. Some not so much unfortunately,” Webster replies. “We have certainly made some good progress as an industry in that we are much more aware of our cleaning operatives, their safety and wellbeing. The technology and equipment being used in the industry is now far more sophisticated. However in many ways we have not come far enough.”

We all come into contact with the results of a cleaning operation every single day and Webster feels there should be far more recognition of the people making that happen. “The person at the front end of any operation is the cleaner – I like to call them the directors of first impressions. And we are all only as good as our last clean.”

UK-based Specialised Cleaning Services performs the most challenging of cleaning jobs – clearing and cleaning houses after tenants have been evicted or come to the end of their tenancy, or where people have died. ECJ talks exclusively to Sarah Southworth, who set up the business single-handed and now heads up a successful and growing operation.

Like many people who work in the cleaning sector it was never Sarah Southworth’s intention to start a cleaning business. It happened very much by chance and through necessity. At the age of just 25 in 2004, she suddenly lost her partner and was left to bring up two sons – just three and four years old – alone.

“Obviously I had to earn money so I was working until 9pm at night for a local company while juggling my responsibilities as a mother,” she explains. “One day I could stand it no longer, and simply walked out.”

So Southworth took on an ironing job paying just 3.5 euros per hour and when the owner of the business quit she took it over. “So I decided to put advertisements in local shop windows offering cleaning services as well.” That was in 1997 and within a couple of months Sarah was fully booked with cleaning and ironing jobs. She would often spend all day cleaning, then fulfil her ironing obligations by working late into the night.

In 2006 a local maintenance company that worked for housing associations contacted her and offered her a job clearing some of their houses. “I was interested of course, it was a lot more money than I was used to earning and I thought that if I could do two or three a week I would be happy.”

So that was how Southworth got the house-clearing business up and running and before long she was doing five jobs a day – still from the boot of her car and alone. One day she was invited to a meeting with a housing association and offered all its work. “At first that was between three and five jobs a day but very quickly I was working 12-hour days.”

With the company growing fast Southworth bought a van and named the business Specialised Cleaning Services – with her sister-in-law helping out on jobs. In 2008 she took the big step of investing in a local industrial unit (before that the business had been based at her home). “It just felt right and turned out to be the making of the company,” she says.

Today Specialised Cleaning Services employs 20 staff and works mainly for local housing associations. And as recently as two years ago Southworth was still responsible for answering the phone, booking in jobs and invoicing. Now she has a small team of administration staff.

She puts the fast growth of the company down to housing associations taking many of their operations back in-house. “This has really increased the number of customers we have. I have never advertised and all clients have come to me through word of mouth.

“And our clients know that no matter what they need, it will be done and they can call at absolutely any time.”

Specialised Cleaning Services handles clear-ups in housing association properties after evictions, tenants coming to the end of their tenancy, or dying. The team will clear the house and garden, trim hedges, etc. Often there is a pest control element to the job, which is handled by different operatives. And the challenge of the task cannot be underestimated, because Southworth and her team are faced with some truly shocking and gruesome sights when entering many of the houses they work in. This is not a job for the faint-hearted!

One of the key factors in Southworth’s success with her business is clearly her no-nonsense approach and willingness to do any job, however challenging. And this is a business owner who very much gets stuck in with the team – every day she is out with her operatives and dealing with what most people would call disgusting cleaning jobs, lifting domestic appliances and whatever else has to be done.

But absolutely nothing worries Southworth and she has no intention of moving away from the front line. “Going out as part of the team is what I enjoy most about running my business and I actually hate the thought of standing back to allow others to do the dirty work,” she says.

Unsurprisingly everyone on the Specialised team is male, except for her. “Women simply find it too hard – in terms of the physical nature of the job, the extreme circumstances we often face, and the hours. This is no regular cleaning job, it really is such hard work.

“And our work is very immediate,” she continues. “It comes in day to day so we never quite know what every day will entail. Our team is well used to working late at night, weekends, etc.” Southworth never turns work away. All staff work full-time, every day and often there is weekend work available.

Cleaning up drug dens is a fairly regular occurrence, which inevitably requires removing large quantities of needles. “This is very time-consuming, laborious work because our operatives must be so careful in following health and safety legislation and also disposing of them properly, along with other clinical waste.”

What does Southworth see as the secret of her success? “I never think to myself, ‘wow, I’ve achieved so much’. I just turn up to work every day and keep going – that’s my job.” She is clearly inspiring the people she comes into contact with because she has won a number of business awards in her area.

Southworth is ambitious for the future expansion of Specialised Cleaning Services. She would like to open another depot, naturally leading to more contracts. She would also like to target crime scene cleaning as an area where she could provide a high quality service. For herself, she wants to do more of the same – working on the front line, getting her hands dirty!

Dr Ilham Kadri is president of the Sealed Air Diversey Care business. Since she joined the industry she has aimed to raise the profile of women in the sector and would like to campaign for greater recognition of the vital jobs they do. She would also like to see more women in key management positions.

Since joining the cleaning and hygiene industry last year, what is your perception of women’s role in the sector as a whole – at all levels?

Women make a major contribution to our industry, from cleaning operatives, supervisors, and marketers to sales professionals, entrepreneurs, and ceo’s. But at the moment women occupy mostly one layer in the value delivery chain: the lowest one. Most cleaners employed by building service contractors are female, but as you look up to more managerial roles, the percentage of women decreases drastically. It is both a missed opportunity for the companies that hire these women and for the women themselves. I am a rare case that I hope helps our industry ceo’s, coo’s and cmo’s understand the value of women in leadership positions.

What status do women have in the industry, ie, to what extent is their role and importance recognised?

In my view, the few women who are doing management jobs in our industry are regarded as totally capable of doing their jobs in a similar capacity as their male colleagues. And that has no
discussion, all things being equal, as research and practice has proven. You may even go further and say that our different ways of looking at things make us complementary.

But my biggest concern is that there is a huge amount of market understanding that is being lost due to the lack of women on marketing, sales, R&D and management jobs. If most of the users of our cleaning solutions are women, shouldn’t we have women developing our innovations, marketing campaigns and sales tools for those women? Other industries do exactly that - personal care, clothing, children’s products are all categories designed and developed by women for women.

In what ways can the industry work more effectively to ensure women are better recognised and have equal opportunities to advance their careers – whatever level of the industry they
work in?

The role that associations such as ISSA play is critical. Initiatives such as round tables, seminars, research and facilitation are part of ISSA’s mission to transform this industry and develop our capabilities. To be honest, I don’t feel resistance to have more women advance their careers, but we probably need to work on better training programmes for women to improve their chances of advancing in this industry.

You are personally taking part in the women’s forum at ISSA/Interclean. Why has this been organised and what are the objectives? Why are you so enthusiastic to participate?

As a woman in a leadership position, I have a personal responsibility with women in our industry to help them develop personally and professionally. I come from a humble background in my country of origin, Morocco, and I want to coach women to understand their value and their worth for business. I have spent all my career mentoring young women and fighting female illiteracy, and promoting female leadership in the field of science, engineering and business, particularly in the Middle East. I was recently featured in a book entitled The Power of Women, along with 60 other female role models from all over the world. And I am also one of the international ambassadors of the foundation ASTRAIA (Female Leadership Foundation).

The women’s seminar being organised during the exhibition is the result of my conversations with ISSA during the past 12 months to develop a joint programme for this topic, which is also one of its priorities. This forum will share experiences from some women in leadership positions, with the idea of fuelling the debate and break some paradigms.


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