Last Thursday in Leicester, there was a palpable excitement in the room as twenty women from a diverse range of backgrounds came together for our eighth Women in Health and Safety networking event.
The evening, held at NEBOSH’s head office, was centred on developing your career and addressing the gender imbalance within the health and safety profession.
Heather Beach, director – OSH at UBM, began the evening by introducing the background of the Women in Health and Safety Network, and its first successful year within the health and safety profession.
Following the first event at the Safety & Health Expo last June, the network has snowballed, with women all over the country taking on the mantel of hosting events to give women in the profession a place to come together and hear from established, career-driven professionals on how they worked their way up to senior levels within their various companies.
Teresa Budworth kicked off the presentations with a look at upskilling into senior leadership. She started off by outlining the three areas to examine when considering a career move:
Teresa explained that as health and safety professionals, many key skills for progressing in senior leadership already come naturally.
These included risk literacy and the ability to prioritise problems depending on how important they are.
“Problem solving is another area that as health and safety professionals you probably already excel at,” said Teresa. “You are trained to look at the cause of the problem, rather than covering it with a plaster.”
Influence and persuasion was another area that Teresa identified in helping to establish and maintain close working relationships.
Teresa encouraged the women in the room to take a strategic view when thinking about upskilling to senior positions. She spoke about looking at the implications of what you are doing and the ability to align your plans with the corporate goals of the business.
“Make a business plan and measure success,” said Teresa. “Think about the impact of your decisions on the wider organisation and ask how existing systems can help you to achieve your goals.”
“Developing an ability to think at a higher level is important,” she continued. “Use the tools that already exist within an organisation to help achieve your goals and the goals of the company.”
“There’s the skills gap,” Teresa explained. “And the perception gap. You are responsible for your own development. Ask for more training or create your own opportunities. Find a mentor, volunteer, learn from experts and give yourself a 360 appraisal.
The perception gap, Teresa explained, was about being able to manage your profile, learning how to do great presentations and accepting that self-doubt is normal.
“Feel the fear,” said Teresa. “And just do it.”
Following on from Teresa’s talk, Sue Cooper, NEBOSH Trustee, and non-executive director for Skills4 UK Ltd, took to the front to discuss her experience of implementing a career development training programme for women during her time at WS Atkins.
She began by encouraging the room to identify those people within your organisation who stand up and to align yourself with them.
“Hang on to their coat tails,” she urged. “And be brave! If you are in a meeting and you think of something to say, say it.”
Talking through the project at WS Atkins, she elaborated on how she established a goal to support women in Science, Engineering and Technology careers.
By finding out the male/female ratio in the company – which was at 74%/26% when she started the project – she was able to give a focus to the areas that needed attention.
She identified a need to attract female candidates in the first instance. This meant using more engaging language; using photos of women in their brochures and on websites rather than just men in hard hats; and pushing flexible working as a real benefit.
There was also a drive to develop a programme to retain and engage women in the business. Some of these were incredibly successful – including identifying unconscious bias and establishing training for directors and managers to target this; and a women’s development programme for some of the 500 women in Atkins. Others failed – a colleague support scheme, and training opportunities geared specifically towards women.
Other initiatives that Sue described included an in-depth leaver analysis following all mid to senior level female resignations, to establish exactly why someone was leaving, and if there were any changes that could be made within a team.
The success of the initiative could be measured by the number of female employees, who made up 29% of the workforce in 2011, increasing to 35% in 2014.
“A small increase,” said Sue. “But over time this will hopefully increase further.”
“There are three main personal barriers to career progression for women,” said Sue.
“A reluctance to showcase ourselves; understanding communication differences and making adjustments; and planning our careers, setting goals and actually achieving them.”
To finish, Sue set up some key drivers for success:
Following the talks, everyone was invited to put the last point into action and to take part in a chocolate tasting session, where chocolatiers from Leicester-based Cocoa Amore talked through the origins of cocoa and offered out tasting samples of chocolate from all over the world, with a complimentary box of chocolates for each person to take home.
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