Firstly, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. HSE People and are members are really keen to find out more about you and the OneWISH organisation.
To begin, could you please explain more about OneWISH, how did the organisation come about?
OneWISH is a global coalition of organisations that are interested in seeing more women assume leadership positions in the field of Health and Safety. It started just over a year ago when Malcolm Staves, Global VP for Health and Safety at L’Oréal and Louise Hosking, Director of Hosking Associates who are both keen to achieve greater gender balance and smarter EDI in the industry, started linking their personal networks and began to reach out to membership organisations and corporates around the world. The Coalition now includes Health and Safety membership bodies, corporates, not-for-profits, supporting organisations and women’s networks.
Recognising that we are stronger together, the Coalition is working to improve women’s access to opportunities. We do this by platforming both women and opportunities, by sharing knowledge and information and by promoting and supporting any of our members’ initiatives working towards this goal. The kind of initiatives that OneWISH supports are focused on helping women in Health and Safety, on enhancing the working culture in the profession to ensure that women are more able to succeed and thrive, and on advocating in the wider environment to increase opportunities.
Fantastic, that all sounds very exciting. You have a lot of experience, how have things changed since you first started your career?
A lot when it comes to EDI which is excellent and critical for businesses, communities, and each of us. I see companies valuing EDI more, holding the leadership to account, ensuring the right values and behaviours are in place, having policies that are inclusive such as flexible working policies, parental leave policies, and there are now more associations and groups focused on EDI both internally and in companies but also across industries and professions. When I started my career a little over 21 years ago, you did not see discussions around menopause, PPE for women, gender pay gap reports or other conversations around this topic. It is really energising to see this and to also see that the public including investors holding companies more to these principles.
Absolutely! What particular challenges did you face at the start of your career and do you still face them now?
I was fortunate in my career to have been given stretch assignments in key leadership roles and to work in different countries, however with those opportunities came various challenges. Many times I was the youngest in the room, the only female, or the only person of colour. At times it was intimidating as you doubt yourself on whether you should speak up and question whether you will be listened to. These experiences meant that I needed to change my approach and learn to tailor my leadership and interpersonal style to the specific group that I was with. I also had to build my confidence in order to realise that I did have a voice and that it was fine to speak up and contribute. It was valuable to have mentors and sponsors to help me in my career journey and growth.
As I have matured over the years, I see those challenges differently now and I speak up more especially when I see biases. I am a strong advocate for conscious inclusion and ensure that I am supporting and encouraging others where I see that it is needed. At times I am still the only ‘one’ in a room, but I am seeing that less and less which is motivating.
As you have said things are still not balanced, I’m sure we can all agree with that. What sort of bias are women facing in the health and safety industry?
The health and safety industry is highly male-dominated with less than 30% of industry professionals being women. This has resulted in either conscious or unconscious biases including stereotypes about the role of women in the workplace verses home, beliefs about women’s leadership abilities, lack of access to role models, pay variances, and sadly experiences such as sexual harassment. In addition, there is also lack of suitable arrangements on worksites for women, ill-fitting PPE, inflexible working schedules, and micro-aggressive behaviours that have impacted women, resulting in many switching jobs or not having access to more leadership roles.
How can we help to improve access to STEM education for young girls?
We must get the message out there by engaging at all levels – students, parents, teachers, businesses and communities. It is vital to empower girls and women by ensuring they are given equal opportunities to pursue their career goals.
When I lived in the US, I chaired a program called Young Women Energized where we promoted STEM education and careers to young girls in the local area. The program involved them hearing from others in university and in the workplace on the rewarding experiences and careers due to STEM and we worked with companies to sponsor scholarships for those with economic challenges to support their STEM related studies. This is just one example as we need to work with the secondary schools and universities to spread the message and show that a STEM career is for females, show what companies are doing to ensure supportive programs are in place to drive EDI and utilise networks and associations to energise the population. There are so many groups out there making a difference such as Women in Safety Excellence, OneWISH, Women in STEM networks, just to name three. All companies should have outreach programs to support this area of their EDI journey. I also think as we progress in our careers, we must give back and uplift the younger generation to embrace the value of STEM education. This is one that is personal for me as I came from a very low-income household and being able to study Chemical Engineering back in Trinidad via a scholarship made a significant difference to my life. I really value education and it’s why programs like YWE hold such a strong place in my heart.
Who inspires you?
That’s a tricky one as there are definitely lots that I can think of. I have gained inspiration from so many people over the years – public figures like Michelle Obama and professional people like Louise Hosking and Aleida Rios (a previous line manager). If I had to pick one person at present it would be Louise Hosking, Louise and I connected via the IOSH mentoring platform (which emphasises the value of mentoring) and she really made a positive difference to me as I settled into the UK. Due to Louise, I have increased my involvement in IOSH and OneWISH. I was seeking opportunities to give back and I found myself being motivated by her passion and commitment for the OSH profession.
What do you think is the future of females in STEM?
Very bright!!! The Future of STEM is female, it is clear. Businesses recognise the value of diversity and inclusion for their companies to survive especially in a post pandemic world. We will see more opportunities being provided to females on entering the workplaces, more policies and support systems to allow flexible working, womens health will be considered more too. There will also be arrangements and practices put in place to ensure that there is a balanced recruitment and selection process. There will be more opportunities for women to have greater visibility and leadership roles, more sponsorship drivers, and more supportive allies. All of these are of critical importance as we navigate this VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) but very exciting. I am happy to be part of it and look forward to seeing the progress not only from a technical perspective but the leadership styles that come from a more inclusive world.
Thank you so much Melissa, we really appreciate your time and insight.
OneWISH: Women & Inclusion in Safety & Health A Global Coalition of Women in Safety & Health networks exists to influence a more diverse, equal and inclusive profession. Members are existing Global Health & Safety networks with the collective, wisdom, strength and influence to create a fairer, healthier and safer world of work. They may be global corporations who share our values and employ internal Health & Safety professionals. These companies have committed to creating an internal group to represent women and underrepresented people; and commit to supporting them into leadership roles.