Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Charlotte Geoghegan is Event Manager for Safety & Health Expo and SHP at Informa Markets. She is responsible for content, strategy and sales of physical events and digital products. She is also an active member of the Women in Health and Safety committee.Before Charlotte went into this role she was Head of Content for the Safety & Health Expo, SHP, IFSEC, FIREX and the Facilities Show. She joined Informa (previously UBM) in 2015.Charlotte has spent 10 years in media & events and her academic background is in modern foreign languages. You can find her on LinkedIn here
March 8, 2022

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Women in health & safety

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

In the second part of this mini-series, where SHP speaks to eight health & safety professionals about gender bias, we’re going to look at some of the challenges and advantages faced by women working in the profession.

If you missed part one, where we looked at why gender bias exists and delve into some real-world experiences of women in the health & safety profession, please check that out. In the final part, we explore how we overcome gender bias in the workplace.

This interview is part of a series for Women in Health and Safety. You can find out more about each of the interviewees, in the bio section in part one of the series.

Are there any specific challenges for women who are working in male dominated workplaces?

Gender discriminationTiffany Argent (TA): “I had to be able to cope with that slight misogynistic ‘alright darlin’’ kind of attitude. I realised sometimes what I said or wore wasn’t appropriate, so I learnt quickly to adapt. On the shop floor there’s a limit between banter and sexism. Over time I drew a line with the operators and if they ever crossed it, I’d tell them, so they then knew where that line was drawn. Unfortunately, respect didn’t go up a level in that business, it stayed at the shop floor. I guess I’ve actually experienced a glass ceiling!

“It’s challenging, knowing how to pitch yourself. In health & safety you’re seen as an authoritative figure, and you have to earn the respect of workers. There can be communication differences between male and female workforces and it’s learning to adapt to those in order to get your safety message across.”

Rebecca Walpole (RW): “There are just some specific people who have issues with women into senior positions.

“When you feel like someone has an issue with you or you’re being shut down in meetings or your ideas don’t carry the same weight as a male counterpart, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what it is and explain it to somebody. It takes away your confidence, even if you start off feeling confident. And can really affect your trajectory into senior management roles.

“I once worked in a team that was majority female with a male manager, and he would introduce as his ‘hareem’. I thought ‘erm, no we’re not, we’re health & safety professionals actually.’

“I have also noticed some women who think that other women shouldn’t be rising. I don’t know if they feel that because they had to put up with inequality that women coming through now should as well, or that they’re in competition with other women somehow. But I do feel that there’s been a shift in that – I feel like there’s a lot more support for women out there from other women.”

“In my current role, there is a lot of work done on gender equality. I certainly don’t feel here what I have felt in other workplaces. I remember when the Women in Health & Safety Network was set up, one of the biggest comments was ‘what about men?’ I feel you get less of that backlash now.”

Melissa Mark-Joyce (MMJ): “Challenges include respect, being included in discussions not being listened to. Also, there’s a view that if you’re a mum you’re not going to be as career-orientated, so they might not get the same promotion opportunities. But we’re talking more about it now and society is setting expectations of what companies need to do. I have seen a massive improvement.”

Fiona Gilbert (FG): “Sometimes, although not always, there can be a male-bravado, a sort of clique. It can be tempting to try to become one of the guys when that happens, but I don’t think we should do.

“When I first used to go to job interviews people would ask me if I was going to have a baby. And, fortunately, that behaviour has changed, but there is still an element of that there. I think it’s much better now than it used to be, but we’re still not quite there yet.”

Anne Gardner-Aston (AGA): “I’ve found there to be an ingrained bias that has to be cut through. There are challenges around not being heard, not even being asked an opinion on something. Being labelled, perhaps, or not, not being able to address things in the same way as a man would address them for fear of being accused of being shrill over assertive. Men can find it easy to address things forthrightly, where women seem to be labelled as something else, if they do the same things.

“The more people realise that some of those feminine traits actually achieve better outcomes than the traditionally male traits, I think there’s going to be a lot more, a lot more respect for that going forward.”

Leah Tusiime (LT): “I’ve seen things like maternity discriminations, some companies don’t provide breastfeeding facilities for new mothers.”

Are there advantages for women in male-dominated workplaces?

(FG): “There can be. Sometimes a woman being with a group of male workers can take the edge off of any tension, allowing the group to take a more balanced view.

“I used to go out on building sites to do inspections and I can’t go out and pretend that I was once a bricklayer, or a joiner. I’ve just had to go with the fact that I’m female. You don’t have to take your nail varnish off. You don’t have to pretend that you’re anything you’re not.

“Years ago, I was a VAT inspector. I would turn up and they were expecting a grey-haired old man. And, actually they used to be more open with me more.”

(LT): “Our advantage is to be able to act as role models to other young women and show them they can do as much as men. I try to encourage to join health & safety so that we can positively influence the workforce.”

Fari Fathi (FF): “You can inspire others and make a difference to the next generation. You can be a part of influencing or changing the culture and structure of workplaces. And if you’re coming from a different race or country, your diversity can help your business to be successful – it can help them see things from different perspectives.”

Have attitudes and behaviours around gender changed in recent years? professions?

(LT): “Yes, in the past 10 years I’ve seen more women in health & safety and male-dominated workforces, but we still have more work to do to encourage more women to come and join the club.”

(AGA): “Yes, attitudes are changing, diversity on board’s is changing. People do recognise it and want to do something about it. It’s a slow old tanker to turn, but I think we are getting there. Representation at those sorts of levels, and as it filters through the management structure, is just going to change the environment in which we work.”

Keep a look out for the final part in this series, where we’re going to explore how we overcome gender bias in the workplace, which will be published next week.

If you missed part one, looking at why gender bias exists and delve into some real-world experiences of women in the health & safety profession, click here.

In part three, we explore how we overcome gender bias in the workplace, click here to read.

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