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Shaping a Diverse and Inclusive Future: From Childhood Lessons to Professional Milestones: Insights from Gary Zetter – Labels are for clothes and not for people.

Gary Zetter from ASH Integrated Services stood in front of their logo on the wall at their offices

Having won global awards for his extensive efforts to improve D&I throughout his impressive career, Mr Zetter states that he made the decision to avoid his previous senior roles and is thoroughly enjoying his return to his latest position. Although he remains optimistic about the growing attention devoted to D&I and the benefit this brings, he feels now is the time to drive the message forward with increased effort and attention from senior management teams. 

Explaining how his immersion in D&I was instilled by his formative years in the Shepherds Bush area of London, he says: “I was one of just three white children at primary school and D&I was the norm for me throughout my childhood,” he recalls. 

“And while I can see if someone is coloured or if they’re male or female, the usual obvious things, I always see the person first,” he continues. “I believe labels are for clothes and not for people. 

“Growing up in inner London has made that easier for me, in many ways, but I also don’t hold anything against those who haven’t been exposed to that, while I certainly believe that in the FM sector bias still exists. You can’t hold it against someone if they haven’t been exposed to different cultures or diversities, it’s not their fault, it’s just the journey they’ve been on and everyone’s different,” he states. 

After establishing a thoroughly deserved reputation for his efforts in promoting the D&I topic in his FM industry senior management and directorial roles over the years, Mr Zetter shares his valuable and highly relevant views with FM Director on the progress achieved. This includes his view that although there are now many more people in the industry with D&I job titles, he questions how helpful this is. 

“I’m seeing ever more prominent D&I management roles in FM, but I’m dismayed that we actually need quality D&I people in our industry. It should be part of our embedded cultural and I’m disappointed about the inactivity that has prevented it being made a central part of all company cultures,” he states. 

Gary Zetter from ASH Integrated Services at their offices

With the FM sector widely recognised for being a ‘people industry’, Mr Zetter says this should remove the need for D&I roles, especially in any soft service operation as these are typically employers of people from widely varying ethnic backgrounds. His views are supported by numerous FM Director interviewees of cleaning companies in particular, many of whom refer to the high number of languages spoken within their teams. 

He believes one of the issues preventing further action is that too many senior managers are white, middle-aged men and that more directors, managing directors and chief executives need to be recruited from the highly diverse backgrounds within their teams. Another solution is to include the instilling of D&I in company culture within measurable achievements for senior managers to receive their annual bonuses. “If it hits you in your pocket, you do something about it,” he states. 

“I find it quite strange to have this conversation after so many years,” Mr Zetter continues. “I now work for a small company with three great directors and this is the first time I can honestly say I can now bring the real Gary to work. 

“I loved my time at Mitie and how they allowed me to grow into a director and some of things I was encouraged to do around diversity, and I learned so much from both senior directors and also the younger people I worked with there. I feel truly blessed to have worked there. 

“But I’m really happy with my work at ASH and how everyone treats me and that means I work better, as well. There’s a great culture here and I think that it’s not that hard to get the culture right, but you can see that for some of the larger companies it’s all smoke and mirrors,” he says. 

“I trust the senior FM industry leaders and believe in their abilities, but I also firmly believe that those who haven’t established D&I as a central element within their company culture should lose their bonuses. They’re in a position of authority and have responsibilities, but the fact that we’re still talking about it shows that more needs to be done,” he states. 

Mr Zetter is also very complimentary about many of the D&I managers now employed, although he believes this role should not be needed if the policies are truly integral in company culture. He is also concerned that these roles will be among the first to go when their employer experiences financial difficulties. 

“I do believe our senior managers should be challenged more in these areas and I’ll die a happy man if I know that women are being paid the same as men in all areas of the industry,” he continues. “But what chance does the rest of the diversity message have if we can’t pay women the same as men?” 

Given the major success achieved by Mr Zetter in the winning of major national and international awards for his D&I efforts over the years, he states that many industry contacts have suggested he applies for work in this area. “I would never take a penny for any D&I work as all this has been voluntary and I’m an ops manager by trade, all the other things I’ve done have been provided free to anyone that wants them,” he states. 

Gary Zetter from ASH Integrated Services giving an acceptance speech at the PFM awards 2023

One of the best examples of a company that has established an excellent culture is Pareto FM, Mr Zetter states, with particular emphasis on the quality of its website to confirm this. “They talk about culture and diversity on the front page of their website. 

“I’ve just turned 60 and I can’t express the wonderful impact it had on me, at my age, seeing the Pareto website. I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to Andrew Hulbert and everyone at Pareto and I’m not surprised at the great success that that company has. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company like that?” he asks. 

He credits the efforts of Pareto FM with restoring his faith in business culture which, combined with his enjoyment of working for a smaller business, has helped to considerably restore his level of self confidence in recent months. This took “a big knock” when he made the decision to leave his senior role at Mitie, he states, and found it difficult to accept his time had come to an end there. 

“I felt I wasn’t really making an impact and achieving the things I’d hoped to,” he continues. “I still love Mitie as a business but it was time for me to go and I left London to move to Manchester and made the decision to avoid working for another large business. 

“And work is now much more about getting things done but also having fun, so I couldn’t have wished for a better outcome. I’ve been allowed so much freedom and we’ve made some massive changes to the business,” he states. “That’s the best part about working with people that trust you and all the things we’ve changed and brought in have impacted positively on the business.” 

Having worked with many of the now senior and up and coming young talent in the industry through the running of the Mitie apprenticeship programme and his other professional roles, Mr Zetter says he has considerable hope that they will continue to make a positive impact on the FM sector. “I’ve had my day in senior positions and won’t go back to that and that’s something that other senior leaders can do to encourage more of the diverse talent to come through. 

“I feel that I’ve come into ASH and used my knowledge to help the business and almost put a protective layer around the directors and help the company because of some of the things I’ve learned over the years, and they trust me implicitly. And the people I’ve trained in the past have always been encouraged to become better than me and achieve their ambitions and potential. 

“If you develop people to become better than you, that’s how you’re going to grow your business,” he concludes. 

Having trained and influenced many of today’s young leaders, managers and senior personnel, the positive influence Gary Zetter has had on the FM industry cannot be underestimated. The value of his efforts is impossible to configure and it is safe to say the FM sector would be very much the poorer without it. 

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