Achieving Chartered status during maternity leave was just one among many impressive achievements for Karen Godfrey – safety, health and environment manager at Morgan Sindall Construction (Yorkshire and North East).
A passionate advocate for raising female representation in her profession and industry – she’s an IOSH mentor and a member of the Women in Health and Safety Group – Karen’s CV includes some impressive achievements. Not only did she gain IOSH Chartered status while on maternity leave with her first child in 2012, but in 2018 she was named Best Woman in Health and Safety at the Women in Construction and Engineering Awards, a pivotal moment for her professionally and personally.
‘I was completely shocked when I won,’ she recalls. ‘It was a complete game changer for me, a real watershed. In my opinion, women often aren’t good at shouting about what they’ve done, but pulling together the submission for the award made me realise that actually I’d achieved a lot. I’m now much more likely to put myself forward and try things I’m uncertain about.’
It’s this confidence that Karen hopes to nurture in women entering the profession, alongside her belief that health and safety professionals should be strategic enablers, working within senior management teams rather than alongside them.
Behavioural safety is becoming more important: people are more tuned into the importance of communication
It was a module on the Health and Safety at Work Act in Karen’s master’s degree in management and business law that sparked her interest in health and safety. She wrote her dissertation on corporate killing legislation – specifically its effects on the construction and rail industries – which helped secure her first job: a graduate health and safety role at Balfour Beatty Rail. She has since worked for a number of tier 1 contractors, including Mansell Construction Services, as a safety, health environment and quality (SHEQ) adviser, manager and auditor.
‘The first project I worked on was Heathrow Terminal 5, so I couldn’t have asked for a better start!’ she says. ‘But with a project so large, you couldn’t see the real impact you were having. I moved to the rail industry, but it is so highly regulated that I didn’t feel I could influence things as much as I wanted, so I moved back into construction. It was a risk, but it worked out really well.’
Gaining experience in SHEQ across national and regional projects has been important in building a career, she says, adding that the skills OSH professionals develop are easily transferable to a variety of roles and disciplines.
‘This is why the IOSH competency framework is a breath of fresh air. It’s rounded: it talks about wider skills on a strategic level, because as safety and health professionals we should be strategic.’
Communication, communication, communication
While Karen’s career path may be a less well-trodden one for women, she has had ‘no negative experiences or discrimination whatsoever’ in a male-dominated environment.
‘I’ve never had a problem getting my voice heard. The key thing is how you communicate with people. As long as you’re speaking on the same level as the person in front of you, there isn’t a problem. Possibly I’ve been lucky, but you have to be a certain sort of character to want to work in construction. It’s not for everyone, female or male.’
Karen is keen to see more women joining both the OSH profession and the construction industry – and not just in the more traditional HR or admin roles. ‘What’s clear is that behavioural safety is becoming more important: people are much more tuned into the importance of communication. And construction is great for communication: I talk to different sorts of people every day.’
Karen’s tips: For gaining Chartered status
- Set yourself a deadline
- Reach out to your IOSH branch for support
- Seek the help of a mentor, through IOSH or colleagues
- Use IOSH resources as much as possible
- It can seem daunting but once you’ve started the process, it gets easier
- Have confidence: if you think you’re ready, you’re ready!
Applying for jobs: Karen’s advice for women
- Be confident in your skills
- Think about how your broad experience fits the job specification: you can demonstrate skills and experience in lots of different ways from work life and general life
- The technical aspects of a job are only one part of the picture: softer skills are crucial, too
- You don’t need to know everything right now – you can learn.
Women supporting women
Karen cites being named Best Woman in Health and Safety as one of her proudest achievements, not least because the nomination for the award came from an area director she worked alongside who wanted her strategic contribution to be recognised.
Another significant achievement was returning to work after the birth of her first child with Chartered status under her belt. ‘On reflection, it was really important to me to go back to work with Chartered status. I was quite anxious to come back full-time – but having Chartered status gave me confidence and showed commitment.’
Karen is now working towards IOSH Fellowship. As with her Chartered status, she has put a deadline on it – something she recommends others do: ‘Make someone hold you to account for it! In my case, I’m being supported by the Women in Health and Safety CFIOSH support group, set up by Lindsay Sedwards.’
In future, Karen is keen to promote mental health and wellbeing in construction – she is about to deliver her first training course as a qualified mental health first aid instructor – and to continue to champion women in health and safety and in construction. Balancing the needs of three children and a full-time career is the ‘greatest challenge’, she says, but the key is ‘being present in the moment, resisting guilt about what you’re not doing, and being kind to yourself.’