Women in FM

Women in FM: Mary Gauer


Mary Gauer

Group Manager

Planning, Design, and Construction  

Health Sciences Center

University of New Mexico


Mary Gauer, group manager in the health sciences center with the University of New Mexico's planning, design, and construction department, has been in facilities management even before the field existed. She has seen how the industry, her own career, and herself in the field have evolved over time. Gauer was one of the two women founding members of IFMA. 

I was lucky to be able to speak with Gauer for my April cover story in Building Operating Management. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.

Naomi Millán: Tell me about your career, how you got to where you are now.

Mary Gauer: "Like a lot of women my age, I started out as an interior designer. It's the time. I graduated from UW Madison in 1972. I spent until 1976 working as an interior designer in Milwaukee for a furniture dealership. I got married, moved to Michigan, and went to work for Kellogg at their headquarters. This is right in the heart of the discussion of women entering the workplace in more professional roles — John Molloy, 'Dress for Success' — There was a very ingrained perception of how women had to function. They had to 'become men' in how they how they worked with people and how they dressed in order to be perceived as professional and successful.

I had the opportunity to be a part of some of the very earliest discussions about what facilities management was, which was not named at that point. It wasn't identified as a profession. I was very fortunate to be involved in IFMA at its formation in 1980. I'm a founding member of the association. There were only two women who were there at the beginning, which shows you the lopsided way the profession started out. It's a non-traditional career for women, or it used to be."

Gauer left the Kellogg Company in '83 and moved to New Mexico where she went to work for a company that eventually became Honeywell Aerospace. She was there for nearly 24 years, heading up design and construction in the facilities department. In 2008, she went to work for the University of New Mexico.

Naomi Millán: What are some smart strategies you have used to develop your career?

Mary Gauer:  "I would have to say that people do change over the course of time. They modify their behavior to serve themselves in the work they do. I'm an introvert. Most people would not believe that, because I've had to adapt my behaviors to support the work that I do."

However, in my conversation with Gauer it became evident there is a difference between modifying your behavior to be a better manager, for example, and projecting a false persona.

Mary Gauer: "The other thing that works for men and women in business is being authentic. Always telling the truth, no matter how painful it is. My philosophy is I will not lie to you and you cannot lie to me. If you have a problem, you have to tell me and identify what it is so we can work through it. Don't tell me what I want to hear, tell me the truth. That's what I discovered. The need to be authentic, so that who I am on the inside matched my behavior on the outside.

I was sending mixed messages to my employees and to myself. Being powerful and having someone be afraid of me is not appropriate. I work with some big numbers in terms of the work that I do and I work with some extremely intelligent and wonderful contractors and architectural and engineering professionals and subcontractors. I cannot envision behaving the way I did back in the mid-90s to how I do business today. I am a very powerful woman. I do lead very distinctly. I do dominate. I take over. But I think that I've learned how to do that without making people feel afraid of me. It comes through in my authenticity and my respect for them. 

All qualities of good leadership come from a position of respect. You may not like someone, you may not want to work with them. That doesn't mean you can't respect who they are and what they are doing. One of the things that I have learned as I've had some very great challenges in my life the last few years is that I have to be true, I have to be honest and authentic or I can not make it through."


Mary Gauer contributed to the April 2015 Building Operating Management cover story, "Women in FM: How women are reaching leadership roles, and how companies can help them grow."

Look for more from the women featured in the article to be posted in this forum over the coming weeks. Naomi Millán is senior editor of Building Operating Management. She can be reached directly at naomi.millan@tradepress.com.

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