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May 13, 2022

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women in health & safety

‘People can find it hard to recognise success in people who do things differently’

Samantha Mepham, Health and Safety Partner at Rider Levett Bucknall, discusses the challenges she has navigated as a woman working in a male-dominated industry, and how she overcame discrimination to become the respected leader she is today.

samantha mephamAfter being made redundant from her position at a police training centre in 2006 where she managed the Criminal Justice Unit, Samantha was unsure where the future would take her.

“I had six months’ notice of the redundancy. My dad was a health and safety manager at the time, studying for his NEBOSH diploma. I was helping him revise and fell in love with health and safety law.”

Whilst looking for other opportunities, Samantha recalls some of the chauvinistic questions she was asked by professionals.

“I remember being asked in an interview whether I planned to have children… that was quite interesting. At the time, that kind of question was pretty commonplace so I’m glad that things have now moved on.”

Samantha’s next role was at a process manufacturing company where she worked for the next year.

“The environment was a very different experience, there was a lot of ‘don’t worry love, we’ve been doing it like this for thirty years.’”

Samantha then moved to a construction consultancy, focusing predominantly on CDM (Construction Design and Management) regulations and within the next eight years started a family.

“When I was due to have my first child, I was ready to begin a senior position, however, I was told to wait until after my maternity leave because of the pay. At the time I thought it was reasonable, but looking back now, I can’t believe I accepted it.”

In 2015, Samantha joined the international construction, property and management consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall where she heads up health and safety services in the Northwest. She is the first female Partner in health and safety in the business. Proving herself as an established leader was not without its challenges but was a goal she was determined to achieve.

“I’ve always been determined; I’m definitely driven in what I want but I wouldn’t be the leader I am today without my team; they are just incredible. Having their support has meant that I can concentrate on the things I’ve needed to push forward. I’m a massive believer in the power of the team.”

Despite being a valued leader, Samantha is open about some of the issues she has faced.

“I would say I can struggle with imposter syndrome sometimes – I know it is something I need to be mindful of.

“People can find it hard to recognise success in people who do things differently. I think it’s important to be aware of that and not to be distracted by it.”

Like many other women, throughout her career Samantha has been asked things like if she was there to make the tea or knows how to work the photocopier. Though things have moved on, there are still improvements to be made for gender equality in the workplace.

“I’d like to believe that the discrimination we face now is more on an unconscious level, no less frustrating and damaging, but hopefully not with the intent to offend.”

Over the last 12 months Samantha has been working within RLB’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Working Group which helps to drive initiatives within the company and to shape policies.

“Off the back of working on the D&I Working Group I got to know a great group of women who have helped build our first Women’s Group.  This aims to create a community for people to connect, share experiences and grow within the business.

“We encourage all employees to be members and will tackle issues such as career barriers, imposter syndrome and mentoring.  It’s the hope that with these initiatives, and the many others like it, we can raise awareness and work towards a fairer work environment.”

Additional resources

This interview is part of a series for Women in Health and Safety. As a member of the committee our goal is to amplify the voices of women in the profession. Some of the topics covered affect women more than men. Some are deeply personal. It’s our belief that we bring our whole selves to work and therefore should be able to talk about all sorts of issues that affect us, day-to-day, in a work setting.

Two things have struck us throughout this series. 1) We all have so much in common. 2) People are often very willing to open up if they’re given a safe opportunity to do so with someone who is willing to listen without judgement. So, our hope is that issues discussed in this series resonate with readers, perhaps making some feel less alone, perhaps even giving some the confidence to share their own stories. We also hope readers will be encouraged to check in on colleagues, talk about the whole selves we bring to work and be there to listen.

What are the challenges and advantages for women working in a male-dominated environment?

Imposter syndrome: 4 health & safety professionals on how it’s affected them

For more information about the Women in Health and Safety network see our hub page here.

To learn more about the Women in Health & Safety Network workstreams and mailing list, click here.

Read more from this Women in Health & Safety interview series.

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Tracey Jeffries
Tracey Jeffries
2 years ago

This was an interesting read and one I can relate to. I am the Group Health and Safety officer for a Motor group so my industry is very male dominated. At the height of the pandemic I too suffered from imposter syndrome and was delighted to find how I was feeling had a name; I do now have to keep it in check from time to time. I’m very fortunate to work for an amazing company who recognise my strengths and have recently been recognised by the company and been awarded an Employee of the year award for 2021. Women… Read more »