Watch our video featuring all of these senior female leaders here.
Louise Hosking CMIOSH
Director and owner of Hosking Associates, and IOSH president-elect
‘Women and those with feminine traits face different challenges around the world,’ says Louise, who has worked in OSH for three decades across different sectors and businesses, and will become president of IOSH in the autumn. ‘There are parts of the world where women work in fear. This is not a women’s issue, but an organisational one. Policies are only effective if they have a clear, resourced strategy with structured aims and objectives for change.’
Organisations with large global supply chains have a responsibility to set standards and audit against them, and businesses must also identify the issues being experienced by women in the workplace. ‘Micro-aggressive behaviours wear down women and those with feminine traits, and it is important for others to challenge in the right manner when they witness it.
‘I heard of an organisation that recorded women’s experiences and played back the voices to groups of male colleagues. They were genuinely shocked by the comments, which a facilitator helped them to discuss. The organisation backed it up with support programmes and sponsorship that achieved change.’
Mentoring, sharing experiences and equal opportunities to reach personal ambitions are also needed: ‘Our Future Leaders community is much more diverse, but we will not improve diversity unless there is a clear pipeline of support from early career to more senior roles.’
Communities are always more powerful than individuals. ‘There is work to do to achieve equality in developing nations, and by working together, globally, by bringing together all groups representing women in OSH around the world, we have a more powerful voice.
She adds: ‘Provided we can nurture our female colleagues along the way, the future is looking bright, and as I take the presidency in autumn I will be holding the door open.’
Kemi Adegbuji CMIOSH
QHSE manager, FELZ Marine and chair, IOSH West African Division –South South region
Kemi is one of the few women to work in OSH in the marine industry in Nigeria, and she coaches and mentors new female entrants into the profession.
‘I am the only female in my organisation, and I have been able to convince my management of [the importance of] women’s involvement and contributions.’ With the help of ‘passion, commitment, work/life balance and sacrifice’, she has also recently become a Chartered OSH practitioner.
Awareness of women’s rights and OSH conditions in global supply chains is ‘gradually rising’ around the world, Kemi says. ‘Women are most vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence and also have to cope with excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions and poor wages.’
Employers must first admit that a problem exists and be willing to have a conversation
Legislation, policy change and collaboration are needed to address this, and also to ensure decision-making is not one-sided. ‘Collaboration leads to better decisions and more buy-in. Legislation will not be promulgated in isolation,’ she adds.
‘Employers must first admit that a problem exists and be willing to have a conversation to raise awareness and actions at various level, to create an awareness of the need to respect and protect female professionals.’
Work environments, policies and procedures must be gender inclusive, with education on gender equality. ‘After all, the women and men pass through the same set of OSH training.’ The future is bright and holds a lot of opportunities, Kemi says, ‘as long as a conducive environment is provided’.
Top tips: How employers can support women
- Ensure desire for change comes from the top of the company
- Talk to and survey people to find out what the issues are, and examine the data
- Establish opportunities for women so they have greater visibility at events, in print and for leading projects
- Introduce ‘speak up’ campaigns that provide and promote a safe environment for female staff and managers to seek help and advice
- Create policies and procedures, backed up with training to provide equal access to opportunities, flexible working and career advancement
- Involve all genders in campaign and strategy planning because balance is good for everyone, not just women.
Head of environment and sustainability department operations, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Many women work in sectors hard hit by COVID-19 and many are suffering the economic impact of lockdowns, Debbie explains. Like other international financial institutions, the EBRD has ‘deepened its efforts to support access to equal opportunities for women and vulnerable groups by engaging with clients and countries on understanding broader issues of inequality that result from the crisis’.
EBRD standard tender documents have enhanced provisions to require more coverage of labour-related issues, including grievance mechanisms and occupational health. It has also provided new guidance and training on gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) issues.
‘These GBVH tools need to enable people to speak out,’ says Debbie. ‘What is most important is that a survivor-centred approach is adopted so that individuals, particularly in cases of GBVH, feel reports will be handled respectfully, in a safe and non-judgemental manner.’
‘Ideally everyone needs to feel supported to challenge gender inequality and also think outside the box – maybe we could do more to highlight that most OSH risks apply equally, whether the employee is male or female? Maybe undertaking women-focused safety audits could highlight that there are few differences, if any, in most work environments.’
Debbie concludes: ‘I am hopeful that as more women are supported into work and given a voice they will be at the forefront in supporting OSH, and consider this an integral part of their job and a potential career choice.’
Health and safety specialist, Avid Plus, and president, New Zealand Institute of Safety Management (NZISM)
‘Successful interventions are those that include the voices of the affected in the decision-making process,’ Robyn says. ‘It is as simple as encouraging those who organise and drive change to include women in the process.’
OSH professionals should be asking the reasons women are being excluded and looking at ways we can support them to become involved. Robyn has always seen her role in OSH as one of providing encouragement and support. ‘This is particularly important for women in the industry who may not always have been exposed to opportunities for growth and development,’ she says.
Diversity brings a richness and depth that can be used to develop and grow
‘We need to inform, educate and support. Many struggle to understand the benefits of diversity, including accessing knowledge and perspectives, and understanding the skills of those that are not mainstream to their organisation. It brings a richness and depth that can be used to develop and grow organisations.’
New Zealand has seen significant changes in OSH over the last 15 years: more professionalism, encouragement and support of women in the profession, and greater numbers of women having a health and safety role.
‘It is the combined and balanced approach of all genders in a profession that gives it its strength,’ Robyn says. ‘Strength of thought, strength of skills and strength of abilities that collectively develop and support industry.’
Cinthia Guadalupe ROWE
HSSE country lead (Peru) at Maersk
‘Until a few years ago in Peru, it was impossible for a woman to enter a production mine because the workers fervently believed that this would mean an accident or drop in production,’ says Cinthia. ‘While we have come a long way since then, there is still a lot to do.’
The profession needs to consider how it trains professionals – not just in creating courses that recognise these problems, but in providing practical tools for people to deal with these issues when they arise.
Cinthia has come across people who pretend abuses of power and violence against women do not exist, and those who are outraged, issue drastic sentences that work in the short-term but complicate the situation in the long-term. ‘It is important that we admit that it exists and happens in most contexts: from small companies, entrepreneurs, to multinational companies with gender equality policies,’ she says.
‘You can’t fix something you don’t recognise. Opening channels of communication and honest spaces to debate the issue is necessary. This is a complex problem, which requires multiple agents to solve it (from the government to the family nucleus itself) but, in my opinion, this business initiative would be
a good starting point.’
Collaboration is critical, she adds. ‘We cannot create procedures without consulting the people who directly carry out the task.’
Things are improving, though. ‘In this last year I have seen greater business initiatives and programmes that recognise the specific leadership of women in supply chains.
‘And through a company mentoring programme, I have met more women leaders in the field.’
Director, safety system and assurance, BC Hydro, and chair of the Canadian group of Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society (WOHSS)
Watching her father pass away following a 40-year painful battle with an occupational-related illness left an ‘extraordinary impression’ on Stephanie. ‘I ensure that every day I assist organisations in understanding and managing effectively workplace health and safety risk.’
Whether writing articles, speaking at conferences, mentoring professionals or starting a national association, everything she does is to honour her father and ensure others and their families never have to ‘endure that kind of pain’.
Stephanie was part of a group of women who created WOHSS in 2017 to support women in OSH with mentorship, sponsorship, career growth and networking. ‘I know and see the impact we are having, but we need more women in our industry,’ she says.
How women are treated is a greater societal problem and continues to be an issue in OSH. ‘Gender bias and harassment training for our male colleagues is essential,’ she says. ‘And understanding accountability and responsibility in these situations, and what to do as a bystander witnessing this, is invaluable in many organisations.’
She adds: ‘I believe organisations need policies that transcend words and are actionable, making disclosure as easy and safe as possible for the victim.’ This requires employers to ensure employees understand not only what this is, but how to respond, action, investigate and learn. And organisations need transparency around this. ‘We know in safety that when we hear people’s stories, it’s more impactful,’ she adds.
Natasha Joseph GradIOSH
HSE adviser, Sol Caribbean Ltd
A few years ago, when relatively new to the profession, Natasha was assigned to manage a project team of five women. Team members had to implement the project in addition to their substantive day jobs. ‘This resulted in a very stressful time for us all and, as I feared, communication completely broke down,’ she says.
Natasha and her team agreed to create a ‘safe space’ where they could effectively communicate with and support each other. This ‘hearts and minds’ approach resulted in lifelong friendships among team members. ‘The experience helped hone my ability to be an effective leader and appreciate the power of strong and supportive women working together,’ she adds.
Women experiencing incivility at work, especially from other women, is an issue that must be addressed, especially as it can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellness of people at work, Natasha says. In addition, in Caribbean workplaces, sexual misconduct is one of the most frequent abuses of power. ‘No one should be made to feel uneasy at work or otherwise due to the behaviours of others,’ she adds. ‘This must be addressed by documenting, establishing and maintaining a clear policy for managing workplace relationships and conduct.’
Legislation must play a role too. ‘Stakeholders would benefit from more collaboration on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the legislative context.’
But things have improved – Natasha’s four-member team now has three women on it. ‘More than ever,’ she adds, ‘we need to work together to protect women’s health and rights to save lives and build a more resilient future in which we are truly equal everywhere.’
Menopause: Removing the stigma
‘Menopause and the impact of hormonal changes on our ability to do our job is not widely recognised as a problem,’ says Cinthia. ‘Even between groups of women we ignore the discussion since it is difficult to accept that we have differences that could affect our way of working.’
Organisations have a way to go to understand women-specific health issues. ‘We are still trying to get properly designed PPE for our different body shapes, and understand the risks for our pregnant workers and how to support them,’ says Stephanie.
‘Conversation is the first step in removing the stigma,’ she adds.
Kemi agrees that acknowledging these issues ‘cannot be overemphasised’. ‘A holistic approach to health and wellbeing should include risk assessments to make suitable adjustments to the physical and psychosocial work environment, provision of information, and support and training for line managers.’
Just as we would when assessing ergonomics, we should not treat everyone the same, Louise says. ‘When
we undertake risk assessments, we should consider the different effects to workers due to their gender. Many women find the menopause extremely challenging, and our risk assessments should consider simple adjustments.’
The impact of hormonal changes is not widely recognised as a problem
Many work conditions have been established on the historical values of men, says Robyn. ‘A better approach is to consider the needs of all the workforce, of all genders, and to have a multifaceted approach to managing health issues.’
Debbie says: ‘Managers need to acknowledge the issue and be open to having a discussion about potential solutions to best support individuals, such as flexible working hours,’ she adds.
Natasha suggests that targeted programmes should be used to reach female workers with health and empowerment information and services. ‘Employers can also implement awareness programmes and initiatives that include male employees as well as the public.’