(Left to Right) Alexandra Bautista, senior vice president of Employee Experience; Janette Patterson, CPA, senior vice president/controller for Harvard; Heather Parker, a past president of the BSCAI Mid-Atlantic Chapter and VP of Client Relations at CleanOffice/PorterPlus

Women continue to make increasingly greater strides in the building service contractors (BSC) field, and the three Building Service Contractor Association International (BSCAI) member-professionals interviewed for this article are living proof of that. Together, they show not just the growing diversity of the industry, but the growing diversity of jobs and opportunities open to women looking to make their mark. 

Take for example Janette Patterson, CPA, senior vice president/controller for Harvard. She has two decades of experience guiding companies across various industries and consistently delivering results by building exceptional teams, promoting collaboration, and fostering innovation. 

As controller, the University of Miami alum maintains ownership and integrity of the company’s financial statements, ensuring accurate and timely reporting.  

“The best part of my work is the team leadership aspects,” Patterson says. “I manage a team of 30-plus [staffers] and believe in the importance of making our team members feel valued and in giving them the resources to be successful at their jobs. This allows us to share a common vision, where everyone’s contributions and innovations are encouraged and celebrated!” 

Her colleague at Harvard, Alexandra Bautista, senior vice president of Employee Experience, is equally accomplished. She began her career 25 years ago, focusing on technical recruitment for financial institutions like Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. She eventually moved into the technology sector where she started a management career for Citrix in Fort Lauderdale before moving back to New York five years later to work for LinkedIn. She then decided to expand her HR skill set so she could work for companies in other sectors. 

Bautista recalls working for a tech startup who wanted to build out their HR function before going public. She was with that firm for more than four years, which eventually opened the door for her joining Harvard.  

“Essentially, I was brought in at Harvard as VP of talent acquisition to really start building out a true recruiting function,” she says. “I did that for about three-and-a-half years and was presented with a bigger opportunity to head up a new department called Employee Experience that really focuses on the shift we’ve seen in this industry from recruitment to retention. This can be a very high turnover industry.” 

Bautista has been heading up this new department for nearly a year and a half now. She and her colleagues look to touch every facet of the employee life cycle from how Harvard brings in top talent to how the company develops and retains them. 

“I oversee learning and development for the organization,” she states. “I also oversee compensation to make sure that we have equitable compensation across the organization.  We also want to make sure that those who leave our organization are leaving ‘on a good foot.’ We want to give all employees a really good experience from the minute they start working for Harvard to when they wind up leaving us either via retirement or some other reason.” 

Women are thriving in other companies in the industry, too. One of the most accomplished is Heather Parker, a past president of the BSCAI Mid-Atlantic Chapter. She is an ex-law enforcement officer who lived in different countries every three years from birth to 13 years of age as her father was a U.S. diplomat. Her background has given her the skills to thrive as vice president of client relations at CleanOffice/PorterPlus.  

“Being in charge and disciplined in differing types of situations while diplomatically managing people and the situation at large is my area of expertise,” Parker says. “Understanding what truly makes people tick, comprehension of nonverbal signals and learning who they truly are as people, this is where true client and employee relations occur.” 

Parker’s department is responsible for ensuring a seamless client experience from onboarding to account maintenance. In her role as a member of the executive leadership team, she actively participates in forecasting, strategic planning and driving the future growth of the company. 

While building relationships and connecting with people is her favorite part of the job, what does Parker still find most challenging?  

“Just like personal relationships, professional relationships with clients require mutual commitment, dedication and active participation to thrive,” she says. “However, some of the most challenging situations arise when clients are not inclined to foster these relationships. In such cases, when problems occur, their lack of active participation can hinder the resolution process.” 

Patterson also offers what she believes is challenging for many women: “Women need to believe in themselves and their abilities. Confidence is key. Trust in your skills and knowledge, and don’t be afraid to make your opinions known in meetings, negotiation, and decision-making." 

For all three interviewees, the plusses far outweigh the minuses in their careers.  

“I love seeing the direct impact that our HR initiatives have on our employees and the organization as a whole,” Bautista says. “With janitorial, a lot of employees don’t feel they have a career path. It gets me so upset when I hear an employee say, ‘Well, I’m just a cleaner.’ It drives my passion for this job. I ask them, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to lead a team? The fact that you are a cleaner can be the beginning of your career!’ So, we’re working on career paths for cleaners.” 

Bautista marvels at how well Harvard has been with people who have gone from the field to corporate jobs: “We show them all career paths and let them know: ‘You can lead a team and then become an area manager and then an operations manager.’ They have those opportunities. And hey, I’m the perfect example of someone who started in a completely different area.” 

Each interviewee is also quick to share past advice that has really stuck with them throughout their careers.  

“Embrace the mantra 'fake it until you make it,' especially when starting out in your career,” Parker says. “While lacking experience or confidence is common, projecting a commanding presence and confidence when dealing with clients is crucial. Clients must perceive us as knowledgeable experts they can trust. It's natural not to have all the answers, but maintaining confidence and a strong presence is key. Showing uncertainty during client interactions erodes trust.” 

Patterson agrees, adding, “Hard work is important. Do the hard work! [It] isn't just a one-time effort, but rather an ongoing commitment to excellence. This is how you build success.” 

For her part, Bautista is eager to impart wise counsel to any young female colleague reading this. 

“As a woman in an industry that is dominated by men, it’s really important to embrace every opportunity for growth and learning,” she says. “I have been to every single BSCAI conference, annually, because it’s always been important for me to understand the ins and outs of the business. I’m a big advocate of not sitting in corporate and telling people what they should be doing. It’s really about going into the field, being at the sites and understanding what our employees in the field are doing.” 

Bautista further encourages young female professionals to seek out mentors who will guide them. Another rule of thumb she firmly believes in is stepping outside of one’s own comfort zone. Don’t shy away from being the one who sets the precedent.  

“But my biggest piece of advice,” she shares, “is to lead with integrity and passion. I tell my kids this, and I tell everyone I work with — if you lead with integrity and passion, people will emulate those qualities.” 

Parker is equally game for giving young female BSCAI members advice on how to achieve some of the success she has seen.  

“While women are making strides in attaining top positions within contract cleaning companies, it remains a predominantly male-dominated field. Firstly, it's crucial not to feel intimidated when working alongside men. In my experience, whether in law enforcement or in my current role, being the only female in a squad or executive leadership in the board room has never deterred me. I've always viewed my male counterparts as equals, focusing on our shared objectives rather than our gender differences,” she says. “Observing my male colleagues, particularly those in leadership roles, I've noticed certain communication patterns that women can adopt to enhance their effectiveness: Men often speak with confidence, while women tend to use qualifiers such as 'I think' or 'I feel.' While these qualifiers may seem harmless, they can undermine the assertiveness of our statements.” 

Patterson’s closing advice strikes a different tone of urgency. She has three words of wisdom clearly gleaned from experience: “Support other women! As you progress in your career, don’t forget to lift as you climb. By empowering and uplifting one another, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in building services contracting.”