To mark International Women’s Day 2022, Candace Francis, Health and Safety Consultant at WorkNest, talks about goals and ambitions and explores four ways we can inspire girls and women to see health and safety as a viable career option.
As my daughter prepares for her first year at primary school, I find myself wondering what she will grow up to be. Will she follow in her mother’s footsteps and find a passion for health and safety? The truth is, very few little girls – me included – aspire to put on a hard hat at the age of four.
International Women’s Day is a perfect opportunity to start speaking to our future generation about their goals and ambitions, even those that they might rule out based on their gender alone. The question is, how can we inspire girls and women to see health and safety as a viable career option? And how do we overcome the barriers that are currently in their way?
Having worked in the field for eight years, here are four ways I believe we can do more to encourage female talent into our profession.
We should start by challenging stereotypes of what a career in safety looks like. To date, mine has afforded me the opportunity to work for a wide variety of organisations, even celebrities and royalty, and from local to abroad. I’m sure like many, I thrive on this mix, and yes, at times it can be very unglamorous! Health and safety transcends every working environment, so if you have a passion – for example, for film and entertainment, the outdoors, retail and leisure, education, or indeed any sector – you can be very fulfilled at work with real purpose.
The me from 14 years ago thought that the only direction within health and safety was to become an Environmental Health Officer. Through experience, I realised that this little stream opened into a wide sea of opportunities. But I only became aware of this after speaking to other professionals and having to go through other journeys to get to the place where I am today (and with much more to still to accomplish!).
Looking back, I realised that there was no other female of a similar age on the same journey that I could confide in. My limited knowledge had me focusing on one route.
However, over time, I came across several women in the health and safety industry, some of whom have encouraged me (and others not so much) and made me the individual I am today. From directors, my current manager, and fellow colleagues, I have learnt that health and safety is more than just the confinement of a textbook, but it is using that knowledge and putting it into practice.
What really made an impact for me was learning of the different avenues that health and safety holds, whether this is Construction, Occupational Health, Fire Safety, Environmental, Food Safety, General Health and Safety, Consultancy, Officer, Management – the list goes on. Open young talent’s eyes to all these possibilities, regardless of gender.
With work increasingly defining who we are, today’s Gen Z want a clear purpose to what they do. Meaningful work that makes an impact, rejecting many preconceptions of corporate work – safety is one of the few careers that actually delivers on this! It’s about how we market it as a profession – are we simply rule enforcers, or do we serve a greater purpose – one that’s really rewarding. Let’s not keep this a secret any longer.
It’s no surprise to hear me say that being a woman in health and safety is not for the feint hearted. But it is for the champions that we are, to take on challenges and to rise above, never backing down from wanting to excel and improve. To look at any mountain and see it as a molehill to be overcome.
There will be challenges at work. My personal experiences include being seen as too young, hiding my morning sickness to not be seen as a liability, to carrying out Zoom meetings whilst on occasion apologising for my young daughter who is anything but camera shy. Being a wife and a mother requires us to combine our career with family life – there are responsibilities that we have to balance. This makes it essential to have the correct work/life balance that will in turn promote wellbeing.
With this, women must be encouraged to look at misogynistic gestures in the face and go beyond others’ limitations whilst all the while letting their skills do the talking. Let’s face it, we are resilient; yes, we have our moments, we may say it’s too hard and too difficult, but who doesn’t?
What matters is having a flame burning within us that does not get extinguished because our passion in health and safety never plateaus. Female instinct brings tremendous value to our profession – always looking for the next big thing and what can be done to provide the best service for our clients.
Grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters and guardians – the rewarding moments we have encountered during our time within this field can help broaden our family members and friends’ horizons. Our profession will only strengthen by creating better awareness for our future leaders.
You’re likely reading this because health and safety is your passion, and you may consider yourself as a role model for the next generation. My advice to anyone looking to adopt this path as their profession is to seek out an organisation that will nurture you, and help in your growth, exceeding your wildest imagination. Find people that will encourage you and not see you by gender but as a never-ending potential of excellence who deserves equal opportunities.
Women in Health & Safety is a thriving network of people, both male and female who support gender equality and want to see women flourish in our profession. The network regularly connects in-person and online. All the get-togethers are free to attend and open to all, with men and women actively encouraged to join.
The Women in Health & Safety network has a workstream specifically focussed on getting young People into health & safety, run by Aoife Devaney and supported by Karen McDonnell, Anne Gardner-Aston and Ruth Denyer. You can find more about the Women in Health & safety workstreams here, or join the Women in Health & Safety LinkedIn Group.
For more information about the Women in Health and Safety network see our hub page here.
To learn more about the Women in Health & Safety Network workstreams and mailing list, click here.