International Women’s Day 2019 (IWD2019) is a good opportunity to take a closer look at women leading the way in health and safety. With women making up less than 30 per cent of health and safety professionals, there’s a way to go to create a balanced view, particularly at leadership level.
We asked a few RoSPA friends, colleagues and award-winners to share their experience and challenges as women working in health and safety, and to consider how to pave the way for more women to join the sector:
Dr. Karen McDonnell, Head of RoSPA Scotland, OSH policy adviser, RoSPA
I have very vivid memories of becoming part of the health and safety community some 30 years ago, forging longstanding connections with the comparatively few women working in the profession at that time. And after 10 years of promoting RoSPA's mission and vision, being taken aside by a well-meaning male OSH professional and being told “we think you might just make it!”
It makes me smile now, but that comment demonstrated for me the lack of a balanced view of the huge contribution that we can all make towards lives free from harm.
We’ve come a very long way, the connections between us irrespective of gender, ethnicity or geography and the strengths we bring to the profession are immeasurable... and on reflection being told I 'might just make it' was enough to make sure I did bringing others along with me!
Sheila Pantry, OBE, Sheila Pantry Associates Ltd.
Now is a great and important time in history to do everything possible to help forge a more gender-balanced world. Women have come a long way, yet there is still much more to be achieved.
The IWD2019 campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action to make a quantum leap for gender equality for all across the world. And while we know that gender parity will not happen overnight, the good news is that across the world women are making positive gains day by day. Plus, there is a very strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support. Make IWD2019 YOUR day, and do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women and young girls around the world. Be a mentor, encourage your organisation to take action, be prepared to stand up tall and press for progress!
Ann Diment, MSC CFISOH, Work Safe and Well
Earlier this week I attended the Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference (#healthatwork2019). A host of influential women speakers shared innovation and best practice in improving the health and wellbeing of our working-age population. In the health and safety sector, women are still under-represented in the more senior roles, and in my professional body IOSH - which has nearly 50,000 members worldwide - only 20 per cent are female. I was proud to achieve fellowship whilst still in my 40's, but remain one of the few women in the one per cent of members who have achieved this. The gender pay gap is still an issue, female apprentices have been found to earn 21 per cent less per hour than their male counterparts; largely due to the type of course they choose. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some great women (and men) mentors to support me throughout my career, and even though I’ve fallen into the pattern of part time work to support parenthood and caring responsibilities, I’m grateful that I’ve managed to stay connected with my support team, and value their encouragement to carry on with my passion for improving workplace wellbeing and safety. Let's throw down the gauntlet to see how the sector can attract more women into professional roles, and retain and develop them at the different life stages where current societal barriers hold them back. Innovative development programmes, retraining, mentoring and flexible working could all play their part, as could return to work programmes helping rebuild skills and confidence in women who have taken career breaks for caring responsibilities.
Dawn Francis-Jones, Assistant health and safety director, South & City College Birmingham, RoSPA award-winner
Health and safety was not my chosen career, but I found my passion for creating safer environments was supported by the strategic mission of my employer, South and City College Birmingham. It wasn’t easy, but what role ever is? In one training session I was greeted with: “But, you’re a woman and blonde”. This was someone expressing surprise at the knowledge I had, so I did not take offence and took it as a positive. Another occasion I was told: “Leave this to the guys, you won’t understand the technology”, to which those guys replied on my behalf that I was the one leading the training. I have many stories like this and still face challenges, but support from my team and managers has been crucial. I can recommend committing to health and safety. We can all do what we set out to achieve. Above all, believe in yourself. There are many challenges being a woman in the sector, but it shows determination if you gain the knowledge and experience to progress. I look forward to the day when you’re able to look feminine while working in a male-orientated technical role, but we’re not quite there yet.
Laura Aucott, Partner and head of contract, HSE Recruitment, RoSPA Award sponsors
Women in health and safety is a huge topic at the moment, and with an influx of events that focus on issues specific to women in industry, there is an ever growing number of women becoming more prominent. However it is hugely important that we focus on attracting not only women to the industry, but also different ethnicities, sexualities and religious backgrounds. Statistics show that companies with a strong mix of sexes outperform competitors by 15 per cent, and those with a mix of ethnicities by 35 per cent. If companies want to be cutting edge, fresh ideas and perspectives are imperative. Although many companies have come on leaps and bounds with their equitable policies, attraction is still an issue, particularly within industries such as construction. The key thing here is to change how construction and safety are perceived. Kier are a good example of this, as they participate yearly in London Pride, showing the LGBT community that Kier is a safe place for them to work. The same goes for women in industry, the more we demonstrate inclusive policies and women focused events - the better the perception and attraction will be!
Common themes we hear about are that some women experience hostility in male-dominated safety fields, and the importance of networking and finding mentors cannot be emphasised enough. Relevant too is how much the RoSPA Awards can help with progression in health and safety careers. Both from a networking and knowledge development perspective.
More information about RoSPA awards can be found here: https://www.rospa.com/awards/enter/
Posted: 3/8/2019 10:59:34 AM