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March 7, 2014

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International Women’s Day – Driving change through gender equality


Driving change through gender equalityTomorrow (8 March) is International Women’s Day. Raquel Daniels at Acre explores the role of women in health and safety and the Women in Safety, Sustainability and Environment (WISSE) initiative run by Acre.
In the run up to International Women’s Day tomorrow (Saturday), Acre caught up with Anne Davies, special counsel at Withers LLP on the important role women can play in shaping health and safety positions in the workplace. As Davies puts it: “At present, health and safety is understood to be more of an operational function than a strategic one, and there is a lack of understanding of the skill sets required to keep up with the changing nature of the industry. 
“Women’s role as enablers and their skills in communication and collaboration, could play a key role in helping to make safety a strategic function which is properly integrated into the risk matrix. These skills can strongly influence behaviour and this is vital in a health and safety role.”
Women in Safety, Sustainability and Environment (WISSE) is an Acre initiative which originated as a result of the findings in our 2012 CR & Sustainability Salary Survey which highlighted the predominance of men across the sector. Having explored this notion further, with a number of women working in the sustainability landscape, Acre felt that there was a great opportunity to develop a platform bringing together female influencers in senior management positions from across health and safety and sustainability to further explore and overcome issues similar to those highlighted by Davies above. 
To date, the WISSE initiative has provided a fantastic forum for challenges in the industry to be discussed from a female perspective. It allows for women leaders to network, collaborate and share ideas on best practice and ultimately address how progress can be made in this important area of business. 
The value of an initiative such as WISSE, according to Davies, is that it “brings together senior female professionals to share ideas and best practices which can shape and grow their respective roles, and the sector as a whole. Senior professionals are often in quite isolated roles within their respective businesses and a common forum is a valuable tool.
“Through topical discussions, debates and a strong support network, these women are able to explore ideas to influence leaders in their respective organisations.  This can really help to accelerate the health and safety function to a regular boardroom agenda item.”
Based on a recent survey Acre conducted in December 2013, to existing members of our WISSE network, regarding their motivations and the value of such a programme, the need was apparent. Other key reasons included: 
€ᄁ ability to keep up to date with industry best practices, benchmark and gain inspiration from what others are doing;
€ᄁ allow for opportunities to network, collaborate and learn from others;
€ᄁ meet like-minded senior female professionals working in similar environments, to share experiences and challenges; and
€ᄁ provide a platform for interesting conversations, exchanging of ideas and knowledge.
Davies feels passionately about a number of issues which we will look to explore further at future WISSE events. These include, the attitude among industry leaders that health and safety is still a domestic issue. “There is a desperate need to add international considerations to the agenda if health & safety is ever to be brought in line with other areas of risk, like cyber-crime, environment, and terrorism,” Davies says. “Women would be very good at doing this due to their very inclusive, empathetic and intuitive nature when it comes to cultural differences.”
Another consideration is the inclusion of health and safety within the core sustainability agenda, which Davies says would “help to remove the negative connotations of ‘health & safety’ as a phrase.” 
“Lastly, the self-confidence of females in this space needs to be improved, so that they feel confident to apply and put themselves forward for senior roles in engineering or construction, where much of the origins of health and safety lie. If individuals don’t have backgrounds in these areas, the relevant skills can be learnt whilst in the role and should not hinder applications being made — it is a two-way process which will help to equal out the gender split.”
Acre’s calendar of WISSE events has grown tremendously since its launch and has proved to be a huge success, providing enormous value to its members so far. We look forward to a bigger and better programme for the year ahead which will involve niche industry specific sessions to magnify shared experiences, vertical integration across various industries and best practice workshops providing further exploration of themes such as collaboration and communication.
To join the network and find out more about our upcoming events, join our Women in Safety, Sustainability and Environment group on LinkedIn or contact [email protected]

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8 years ago

Unfortunately I don’t see much growth of women in senior management positions due to the rampant sexism in the industry. Many managers wrongly assume that young women will get pregnant and drop out at the first opportunity, forcing them to find cover/pay maternity leave, meaning they won’t hire them in the first place. This is illegal of course, but it’s very common practice and nearly impossible to prove when challenged. The result is a lack of women gaining experience early on in their careers, meaning a lack of women in higher management roles later down the line. In the construction… Read more »