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February 23, 2018

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Women in health and safety: How one firm is helping women get ahead

SHP caught up with Ian Grey from Celerity to discuss how his firm can help women get ahead in health and safety.

Hello Ian, please give me some insight into Celerity’s work?

women in health and safety interview ian greyCelerity is a boutique advisory firm providing two distinct services. Firstly, Celerity is an executive search firm helping clients to recruit board talent and members of the Executive Team.  Importantly, half our business actively is focused on advancing the careers of women. Our work helps employers to better understand what they need to do to attract, engage and retain more women in the first place. Additionally, we often work with small groups of five female leaders to help them develop the confidence, skills and techniques to push themselves forward into more senior positions at work.

Tell me a bit about your career and background within health and safety?

Of course. The firm was set up  in 2016 following a 22 year career as a headhunter one of the UK’s leading search firms. Over this period, I have worked with companies in many sectors, often where health & safety is seen as critical to continued operation. Examples include food, construction, manufacturing, capital equipment, passenger transport and retail. I witnessed, first-hand, the shifting dynamics and increasing criticality of proactive health & safety and how it can be recognised as a net contributor to the bottom line of the business.

How has Celerity has helped advance the careers of women in health and safety?

Commitment to gender balance is at an all-time high in health & safety, however some companies and organisations are struggling to put this commitment into practice. Celerity has been pushing the gender agenda in three ways: Recently a number of breakfast seminars were held for CEOs and HR Directors of FTSE 350 companies where the focus was on the 14 ‘pull factors’ – the actions companies must take if they are serious about encouraging more women through the organisation into board and executive team roles. Secondly, numerous ambitious female leaders have been welcomed on Celerity female leaders retreats. The final piece of the jigsaw is ensuring all shortlists for senior health and safety roles contains female candidates.

How can we improve gender equality in health and safety?

The biggest thing companies can to redress the current imbalance is to make gender diversity the strategic imperative all the statistics prove it deserves to be. The CEO must absolutely take the lead with his or her behaviours by creating the right environment and culture where women can thrive – no woman wants to work in a business where she is surrounded by aggressive men, thinks she is paid less, or isn’t being supported to raise her family. Directors should be tasked with, and appraised and given bonuses against what they have done to develop female managers.

Do you have any examples from other organisations?

A great example is of a media company which set up a task force led by the CEO – imaging the buy in that got? They set three clear goals and tasked the whole company with delivering against them:

  1. Identify top female talent and create a pipeline for future succession.
  2. Develop targeted Leadership Programmes aimed specifically at women.
  3. Position the company as a premium organisation for women.

It was successful on every level.

There is a broader issue around diversity in the sector, some of the challenges faced by health and safety are directly comparable with STEM industries from which many key learnings can be taken.

How can organisations attract more women at the entry point in the talent pipeline?

Consider the following:

  1. Make the sector appear more relevant to more women, especially millennials.
  2. Break current perceptions of the stereotypical H&S Practitioner.
  3. Set out a planned career path or life journey.
  4. Get across the flexible nature of roles in the sector and reduce the stigma of relentlessly demanding.
  5. Target female students from specific Universities and colleges.
  6. Use female role models at each external touch point.
  7. Shatter the ‘old boy’ image.

Great, so who have you helped in the profession?

Celerity recently assisted a well-known FTSE retail business to create a new health and safety leadership team. It could embed the discipline across the organisation and win over hearts and minds following a fatality.

The client was extremely demanding and, quite rightly, wanted to see evidence of how female candidates has been approached. This assignment led to the appointment of the first ever female director in this organisation.

What do you think the future looks like for health and safety?

There is a momentum building now, and has been for many years. But there is still a long way to go.  Continuing to gain meaningful sponsorship and advocacy from the board is essential if the required progress is to happen fast enough.

Companies which now recognise the discipline as a true enabler and tangible contributor to operational efficiency and bottom line profitability will continue to lead the way. Those businesses remaining proactive and fresh in their approach will continue to secure real engagement and win over hearts and minds for years to come.

What would you like to see change in health and safety?

Health & safety to be represented at board level in more sectors and individual companies.  Businesses making the advancement of women the strategic imperative all the statistics prove that it deserves to be. CEOs and boards working harder to attract more women into the industry by crating flexible working schemes and building their own pipeline of female executive talent. Above all employers need to be clear on equal pay and rewards for women.


SHP’s Women in Health and Safety network works to promote gender equality and support women in the profession. Find out more about the network and events on the Women in Health and Safety hub page.

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