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3 Ways Women Have Changed the Face of EHS

PUBLISHED
March 9, 2020

WRITTEN BY
Dina Adlouni

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Let’s face it, when you think of industries like construction or mining the first thing that comes to mind is a male figure working in the field. In the wake of 2020 however, this notion is gradually disappearing, as women have begun to make their mark in the world of health and safety, both on and off the field.

Take construction, for example. This industry has seen an increase in females from only 1.3% in 2015 to 9.9% in 2018, according to Green Living magazine’s article titled Women in the Construction Industry: An Emerging Opportunity. The future is certainly female, as women have been leaving an indelible mark wherever they venture, like Ashley Moore, Susan Phillips, and Heather Smith-Schenkey from our Safety Nerd Community.


Each of these women have made major strides in their respective industries. Ashley, for instance, works as a Safety Support Coordinator at MetroPower in Albany, Georgia. She has championed a Behavior-Based Observation program, which gathers data on at-risk behaviors, allowing the organization to continuously grow and improve their training and dialogue within the company.

Susan Phillips is another wonderful example of a female game-changer in the industry, with several accolades to prove it. She is a Safety Director at Tellepsen, a construction company in Texas, with 28 years of experience in commercial and industrial construction. Her passion and dedication towards safety has helped Tellepsen gain the reputation of being one of the safest construction companies in the United States, ensuring all her team members get home safe.

Last but certainly not least is Heather Smith-Schenkey. Heather is the Health, Safety, and Environment Manager at South Country Co-op who was nominated for our Safety Nerd Award at our annual safety leadership conference, NXT: The Future of EHS, in 2019. This award recognizes someone who has used data to take their organizations to new heights. Being in the industry for over 25 years, she has been able to bring her expertise to South Country Co-op where she has supported others and guided them in becoming more successful in their positions. She has taken the initiative to create positive change and provided the organization with the ability to evolve and grow.

To celebrate women on International Women’s Day, we want to share their experiences and reveal how they have taken their organizations to new heights, firsthand. The feats these women have accomplished in the world of health and safety is remarkable and it’s time the world knows about it. It’s because of such trailblazers and ultimately, the positive changes they can bring to the table, that they should have a central part to play in this industry.

But don’t just take our word for it. According to a study entitled Women in Business and Management: The Business Case for Change conducted by the International Labor Organization on 13,000 enterprises in 70 countries, spanning from 1991-2017, gender diversity in the workforce not only helps organizations, but creates an opportunity for them to thrive.

In this post, we uncover the three ways gender diversity in the workforce will change the face of EHS:

1. Women boost business outcomes

Based on a survey of all the organizations included in Women in Business and Management: The Business Case for Change, 57.4% reported including more women “improves business outcomes”. In fact, it boosts profit from 10% to 15%. 74% of respondents also reported when there are more women in management positions, there is a profit increase of 5% to 20%. This is directly correlated to a larger number of women completing higher levels of education than men, giving them a competitive edge in their chosen fields.

Ashley Moore has exemplified this within her organization:

“As safety support, I became solely responsible for tracking the data received from the 750+ employees at our company. On a monthly basis, I exported each Behavior-Based Observation submitted on eCompliance. Through a complex workbook of my own design, I was able to report branch specific at-risk behavioral data allowing our safety department to communicate the top risk observed during each meeting as well as adapt our annual employee training to concentrate on those at-risk behaviors being reported from our jobs. It is because of the data compiled, sorted and measured by our safety support, that MetroPower can make continuous improvements to our communications and trainings.”

2. Women provide a greater opportunity for creativity

54.4% of companies in the previous study, Women in Business and Management: The Business Case for Change, revealed women offer more “creativity, innovation, and openness”. So, what exactly does this mean?

Organizations with a more male-dominated senior leadership team can sometimes lack the fresh perspective needed when tackling certain projects. When you add different genders and backgrounds into the mix, this leads to greater diversity and overall “better decision-making”, according to an article written by Inc. titled, The Hidden Advantage of Women in Leadership.

This was evident with Susan, who has been able to spark different types of conversations with her team using her unique approach. For example, she has used workshops and phone surveys to get different points of view from her team. “We do workshops to improve leadership skills,” Susan says. “We also use a phone survey program during safety operations meetings, which surprisingly brings a lot of conversation when the percentage is low. The field operations also learn better with this technique.”

By bringing together different members of the team and encouraging them to have a voice, Susan has been able to create an environment for all to excel. She has even taken this a step further, as she is mentoring and guiding young women in the construction industry on their journey to one day become Safety Directors themselves.

3. Women with more authority tend to improve the ability to “attract and retain talent”

More women in management roles translates to a 56.8% increase in employee retention, according to the ILO’s study. This is crucial as it prevents organizations from spending time and resources to attract new faces. Furthermore, the cost of retention is high, so the more you can retain people in your organization, the more this impacts your bottom line. This is mostly due to women’s ability to build strong relationships and establish a sense of trust, according to Inc.’s The Hidden Advantage of Women in Leadership.

According to a survey conducted by the PEW research center on Women and Leadership, highlighted in Inc.’s article, 34% of Americans believe women generally have a greater moral compass and are more honest. This is why it comes as no surprise that a 54.1% boost in company reputation was found with more women on board in the aforementioned study conducted by the ILO.

Heather Smith-Schenkey is a great example of someone who has been able to create meaningful relationships with people she has worked with:

“I am extremely proud of the personal influences I have had in the industry as a woman. On a regular basis, I am asked to meet with women who feel they may like to become HSE professionals to help them on their way. Today, safety is no longer a man’s world. When I am looking to attract and maintain talent, I look for other like-minded individuals who know a little bit about a lot of things; people who demonstrate they are self motivated and want to leave a legacy; people who desire autonomy. These personality traits are exactly that… traits not learned skills. Legislation, procedures, processes, work tasks, etc. can all be learned. I am proud to share my knowledge and influence others to be as passionate about safety as I am.”

It’s time we shine the spotlight on women in health and safety and recognize everything they have brought to this industry, not only on International Women’s Day, but everyday. That begs the question: what are you doing to celebrate women in your organization?

Stumped? Why not nominate them for our Women in EHS Award at this year’s safety leadership conference, NXT 2020? Scroll down to the bottom of this page and give them the recognition they deserve.


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