Women in the workforce have long faced an uphill battle for equal recognition. In male-dominated fields like safety, this uphill battle remains alive and well, even though women have just as many contributions and talents to bring to the table.
If your company wants to build a diverse workforce, the first step is championing a diverse workforce. Make space for women in safety and give them just as much support as their male counterparts.
Not sure how? Here are three ways you can strengthen women in safety and see the real benefits of female leadership.
Promote Equitable Hiring and Mentorship
Unfortunately, your challenges begin as early as the hiring process itself. Less than 20% of business directors are female, and EHS roles (especially in industries like construction and mining) are heavily male-dominated.
Unfortunately, both men and women are biased against women. For example, there is a strong societal bias that men are smarter than women, so people tend to refer men for intellectually demanding roles more often than women.
In a hiring setting, this hurts women because male safety leaders tend to look for young men they can mentor and bring up through the ranks. They can identify themselves in young men, but they often feel threatened by women (consciously or subconsciously).
An ideal solution would be to foster mentor-mentee relationships between women in senior EHS roles and younger women, but the first challenge is to create enough women that fit that descriptor.
If your senior EHS team is male, train them to recognize and challenge their own biases. A good exercise is to remove names from resumes when selecting candidates for interviews to ensure a blind assessment of skills. At interviews, try to offer a diverse panel – bring in women from other departments if you have to.
Work to Build a Welcoming Culture
Part of this challenge is learning how to build a more welcoming culture for women in EHS. That is a process that, like safety culture, will take time, nurturing, and active commitment from senior leadership.
For safety leadership, a good place to start is to hold required training on gender inclusion and recognizing bias. If you have shift workers, hold a training session during every shift so that every worker can attend during their shift.
When you host these trainings, a senior leader should open the training by making a few remarks reiterating their excitement to building a more equitable, welcoming workplace. Then, make a point of sitting in the front row and actively listening during the training. Afterward, stick around to answer questions and talk to workers.
It’s about making a point. Not only are you going to have training sessions, but these training sessions are so important that senior management is willing to set aside other priorities to be present at every training session.
Then, deliver that same level of active attention and consideration at work.
Acknowledge and Reward Different Leadership Styles
Last but not least, it’s important to acknowledge and reward different leadership styles.
Men are comfortable being trailblazers and advocating for their individual work, while women lead on a collaborative, consensus-building basis, highlighting the efforts of the whole team rather than taking credit as an individual leader.
Both styles are vital to your team. A trailblazer can forge the way, but you need collaboration and consensus to build something that lasts. The important thing is to recognize this leadership and reward it equally, which means paying attention to performance, not just words.
Empowering Women in Safety Starts from Within
Women have so much talent to offer and so many new views to contribute to your safety discussion, but they face an uphill battle to be heard. As a company truly committed to a comprehensive safety program, one of the best things you can do for your female EHS professionals is to build an environment that empowers them with the tools they need to perform on equal terms.
Make sure to check out our blog for more great tips to create a safer, healthier, more diverse culture from within, like this post on how to foster a positive work culture in six easy steps.