As vice president of operations for Sodexo, a global provider of facilities management and food services, Lucy Kalkman manages the maintenance of 200 schools in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) account.
Kalkman said she “fell into facility management by accident,” via several retail jobs in department stores, discount chains, home improvement stores, and a carpeting company. “I went from store manager to district manager, regional manager, then to vice president,” she said, explaining part of her managerial duties included making sure the stores were clean and pest-free.
Working with 200 schools, Kalkman said her biggest challenge has been meeting the specific needs of each one. “Each client has a unique priority and so you can’t have a one-glove-fits-all maintenance approach,” she said.
Kalkman believes a necessary part of being able to meet your clients’ needs is being a good listener, communicator, and organizer, skills in which many women excel. The technical knowledge can be learned on the job. “No matter what you’re cleaning—a school, a corporate office, or a baseball stadium—what’s important is that you’re creating an environment that is safe and clean for the customers of that environment.” Kalkman said. “It brings me joy knowing the work we do in facility management positively impacts students’ ability to learn.”
How she elevates other women in the industry:
Kalkman’s company partners with Local 339 Engineers in Chicago and CPS to sponsor an apprenticeship program for high school graduates who choose to go into a trade upon graduation. Each year 20 graduating CPS students are selected for the apprenticeship program, which is solely paid for by Sodexo. It is a two-year program, and upon successful completion, they become building engineers. Kalkman personally mentors a few of the students herself each year.
Additionally, Kalkman offers the following advice for women who are feeling apprehensive about their skills and ability to lead in the custodial industry: “Facility management is still a male-dominated field. Women are apprehensive about getting into it because they don’t think they have enough technical knowledge,” Kalkman said. “But as long as you have transferable abilities, like leadership and people skills, and know how to ask the right questions, you will learn the industry. I don’t know everything about hvac, but I am still able to hire and manage people who do.”