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Young and gifted

Author : Amanda Vlietstra

18 January 2023

Winner of Team Member of the Year Award at last year's PFM Awards, 22-year-old Azekai Siapth is making waves in our industry...

Young people are, of course, the future of FM – and the key to any future transformation - but it can be a challenge for the industry to get them on board. One person who’s making waves in FM is Pareto Marketing Assistant Azekai Siapth - the winner of Team Member of the Year at this year’s PFM Awards. At 22 years old, Azekai is one of the youngest ever winners of a PFM award. 

The judges felt that Azekai was a truly inspirational individual, having undergone a personal and professional journey during his relatively short time at Pareto that led to him delivering some outstanding work for the company, including redefining their LGBT+ output. Among other things, Azekai wrote Pareto’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia statement.

“It was kind of a surprise [to win]. I’m new to the industry so didn’t know who was up for it and what the chances are,” Azekai said. “It was such a big compliment. I knew I was seen for the work I do within Pareto, but to be recognised and applauded for that externally as well was such a big compliment, especially given the short time I’ve been in the industry. It was a very affirming feeling.”

Azekai joined the company earlier this year as part of the Kickstart scheme – a government-funded initiative which provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit. “I was taking a mental health break from work,” Azekai explained. “I’d always worked in hospitality and I was doing 60-hour weeks. I was wary about stepping back into work, but the Job Centre recommended a company called Pareto, which had a lot of work-from-home jobs. That was great for me as I could work in my comfort, so I applied for one of the jobs, and got accepted onto the Kickstart scheme.”

Inclusive environment

He says the Kickstart scheme allowed him to explore a range of different roles that he had an interest in. Perhaps even more importantly, Pareto provided a truly supportive, inclusive environment for their Kickstarters to learn and grow. For Azekai, who is transgender and from a minority ethnic background, this was a gamechanger. He said: “[It] was just amazing. The support Pareto gave their Kickstarters was more than I’ve seen at any company I’ve worked for.”

He continued: “In the first interview, they asked me my pronouns. That may seem very minor, but it can make the difference for someone like me turning up at work. They were supportive from day one, and have been throughout. They’ve continuously given me a voice and platformed me.”

Azekai socially transitioned six years ago and began medically transitioning last year. He says that, while most workplaces have been broadly supportive, it can at times be a barrier to work “having to constantly having to come out within such a big group with different people coming in, and people messing up pronouns. It’s a part-time job to correct people and also just deal with ignorance and people not wanting to learn.” In addition, the gender dysphoria that is behind Azekai’s trans journey can itself be extremely challenging. “It’s one of the reasons I took a mental health break,” he said.

It’s unsurprising, then, that an employer who is committed to diversity and inclusion is very important to Azekai. But he’s not alone in this - indeed, there’s a wealth of research suggesting that this is a significant driver among Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012). A recent study by Monster found that 83% of Gen Z individuals stated an employer's commitment to diversity and inclusion is significant when choosing where to work. A separate poll found 75% of people in Gen Z said they'd reconsider applying at a company if they weren't satisfied with their diversity and inclusion efforts.

War for talent

With the ‘war for talent’ still in full swing despite the recession, with over 1.2 million unfilled job vacancies in the UK according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, this clearly demonstrates that employers who want access to the widest and best pool of talent need to be paying attention to diversity and inclusion. However, it’s important that this is more than just a box-ticking exercise. 

“Lots of companies write LGBT+ friendly policies, but there’s no action behind them, and again, that’s where Pareto is different,” Azekai said. Among the things the company offers all employees, which helps it to be more inclusive, is regular mental health days. They’re also training company members up as mental health supporters. 

“They create such a safe space to have an open conversation and that is the main thing,” Azekai said. “Nobody is scared or treading on eggshells about bringing up a conversation. You can have people like me in a work environment but if it’s not a safe space to have that conversation, then nobody is going to learn. But within every single team, everyone feels comfortable to talk to each other and safely bring up these conversations.”

Diversity = profitability

Not only does research suggest that inclusive work environments are more pleasant to work in, but there’s plenty of evidence that they also make more money. Research from multiple agencies – Deloitte, Forbes, the Harvard Business Review – shows that diverse companies are more innovative, and therefore more profitable. Indeed, the Forbes Business Council estimates that they could be as much as 33% more profitable.

Azekai believes that LGBT+ people can be positive disruptors in the workplace. “Having more LGBT+ people is a privilege. The way a lot of us view life, our experiences, is different and can change the way people think – not just about LGBT+ experiences but about life in general.”

For someone new to the FM industry, Azekai has learned a lot in a very short time. Despite its issues around attracting younger people, he says it’s “definitely” a good industry for young people to be in. “I came into this industry not knowing what facilities management was,” he said. “I just assumed places looked after their own buildings, I didn’t know what went into the bricks and water. But it’s such a multi-faceted industry, and there are so many opportunities and so many different pathways you can go with it.”

Apprenticeships

He believes that more apprenticeships, and more education about what FM can offer, are the key to attracting more young people into the industry. As far as he’s concerned, he’s looking forward to seeing where his FM journey takes him. “My long-term goal is to create a community space for LGBT+ and people from minority backgrounds,” he said. “The only thing we can do as a community at the moment is go to events that involve drinking and nightlife and partying. My long-term goal is a place with a sense of community that isn’t centred around that.”

Where it all starts, he says, is with openness – and conversation. “There’s a conversation around diversity now, which is always the beginning of things. Conversation is the most important thing as it sparks everything after. There’s so much more open conversation.”

He added: “The media is changing how it views LGBT+ and queer people and seeing them in a more positive light, and more people are having accessibility to LGBT+ stories. I think it will change gradually as more people are feeling comfortable and open to come out as gay, bi, trans, non-binary. We’re getting there.”


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