Women in FM

Women in FM: Lesley Groff

Lesley Groff, CFM

Director of Facilities

Mennonite Home Communities

On the heels of Mother's Day, I'm thinking of a conversation I had with Lesley Groff, director of facilities at Mennonite Home Communities in Lancaster, Pa. Groff says she's been called "mom" a lot by her teams over the years. She paused to consider the heft of that word. People are more comfortable going to her to tell her something that might be going on at home, she says. But "mom" is not all sugar and spice.

"Moms can be soft when they need to be and hard when they need to be," Groff says.  "But they make everything ok." And what is an FM if not the person in the facility who makes everything ok?

Groff came into the business through interior design and architecture drafting, learning facility management "through the good old school of hard knocks," she says, when she took on a building services manager position with JLL.

She learned with her boots on the ground, under her own initiative. "One of the smartest things I did was I continued to go to the large conferences," Groff says. For about ten years, Groff says she paid for attending the conferences out of her own pocket. "I was thinking about it as investing in myself. I would go to the conferences and meet up with these strong women in the industry and I would follow them around."

In addition to educating herself through conferences and networking through organizations such as IFMA, Groff also became credentialed as a CFM. She again paid for the coursework herself and didn't tell anyone she was pursuing the credential, until she passed. "People started talking to me differently immediately," Groff says. "Didn't mean I was any different than the day before, but it was validated. That credential set me apart and let them know that I knew more than what they saw in the social settings."

Light Bulb Moment

Though she has found success in the field, Groff has not been immune to the doubts that often come into most folk's career paths. "Because I didn't start this as a career choice, I spent years doubting myself," Groff says. Even when she was on the board of directors at IFMA for two years, she doubted herself, she says. And then she had a light bulb moment. After a meeting, she came to see that she was facing and addressing the same challenges as other colleagues she admired. "They didn't do anything different than I did, they just did it on a bigger scale," she recalls noticing.

Thinking about the different hats she has worn throughout her career, such as "mom," Groff talks about how, especially early in her career, she had to leverage her ability to "chameleon" into different settings in order to command the respect and acceptance her position required. "We (women) have the unique ability to chameleon into different settings," Groff says. "I actually had to change my clothes multiple times a day to blend into my environment. I've had to change from a suit and high heels to khakis and a golf shirt to go into the boiler room to be able to not stand out in that environment."

Though she adds that she's not sure that would have been necessary had she been male, Groff says leveraging her identity as a woman has been beneficial in other ways. "I've been able to walk up to women, and especially me being in my middle age area, and say, 'You know I understand. If there's something else going on maybe we need to move you to make you comfortable,'" Groff says. "A gentleman isn't going to be able to say that to a lady. She's going to receive it differently from me than from a male counterpart."

The conversation I had with Groff which this article references was part of the research I did for 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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