This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge. It will encourage personal accountability for our thoughts, words and actions. In the case of gender bias and inequality, the challenge is to recognize problems, challenge the status quo, and create the necessary change to solve them. This message is reinforced by occupational Safety and health to address harmful behaviours. It’s a great combination to encourage change: women in occupational Safety and health!
Workplaces all over the globe are populated with unconscious and deliberate biases. Although I believe those working in Safety and occupational health can act, it does not mean that women in these positions are not challenged. I was fortunate to have had mentors and peers, both male and female, throughout my career who supported me. However, I have also experienced biases at various levels. I have been guilty of avoiding challenging or speaking up at times. However, this has changed over the years, and I am now better equipped to help others.
To find out women’s perspectives in safety and occupational health-related roles, I sought out former and current colleagues to reflect on where we’ve come from and are now. Their responses were inspiring in their generosity and transparency. While they shared their challenges, advances in personal protective equipment, and facilities that specifically address women-specific needs, most of the conversation was about how gender disparity is incorporated into their positions. There were many obstacles; they shared direct experiences with disbelief and disregard for a woman in a professional position, gender gap and subtle and overt exclusions from decision-making, and disrespectful and threatening encounters. These women shared their experiences and methods of dealing with these situations. In some cases, they also shared how they helped to bring about change. Many shared their successes and the importance of mentors.
While some countries and organizations may be more successful at managing disparities than others, there is still much to do. The women who spoke to me shared amazing insights about where we need to go. Training and investing in inclusive and supportive work environments are positive actions that can be taken today.
I could share concepts and perspectives with Kimberle Crenshaw and learn more about the needs of other marginalized groups, like race, disability, and LGBTQ+, in the discussion around gender inequality. Despite the importance of my achievements, diverse experiences, and global exposure, I am aware of my limited perspective.
Strength is achieved through collaboration, with organizations like Lean in creating strong support networks and providing data framing challenges. As excellent resources, books such as Invisible Women (Caroline Criado Perez) were shared to help us understand the issue.
Thank you to all the women in Safety for sharing your stories with me. This blog is dedicated to them and all women around the globe who are working towards advancing the cause. We have the freedom to choose when and how to challenge the status quo with the #ChooseToChallenge International Women’s Day theme. I’m motivated to make a difference and hold myself accountable. All my colleagues from around the globe agreed on one thing: Never underestimate the power of your actions.