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Woman Behind the Title: Stephanie Benay

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September 5, 2019

Raphaela Mandel

For our second Woman Behind the Title we have another phenomenal woman who continues to grow within the safety profession with sheer passion.

Stephanie Benay is a CRSP accredited professional who is the Vice-Chair for the Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society (WOHSS) a soon to be national organization, based in Alberta. She is currently the Director, Safety Systems & Assurance for BC Hydro, leading a large, diverse team of professionals in engineering, occupational hygiene, incident management, assurance, and safety.

With almost 21 years of experience in the health and safety space, Stephanie also hosts her own podcast titled: Let’s Talk Safety with Stephanie. This podcast is for those who work in safety, care about safety, and want to do better at safety. As a modern-day HSE catalyst for change, Stephanie has many learnings to share with her peers.

Women like Stephanie are those we should continue to be inspired by – in and out of the workplace. She exemplifies the exact persona we are awarding at our upcoming conference, NXT 2019: The Future of EHS for our Women in EHS Award.

P.S. We encourage you to nominate a female worker in your organization to celebrate their hard work, inspiration, and sheer tenacity. It’s time we shed light on everyone who contributes to our industry.

For more information and to nominate an inspirational female leader: Women in EHS Award

Nominations are due September 16th, 2019.

Raphaela: How did you get started in the safety world?

Stephanie: My first step into safety was in the aviation industry.  I joined the Canadian Regional Airlines Flight safety department and was a sponge, learning as much as I possibly could.  Safety made “sense” to me and I felt like it was somewhere I belonged.  It exposed me to some amazing learnings from global organizations and made me want to learn more.

Raphaela: What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Stephanie: I’m not sure if I would call them obstacles, rather just life choices but there have been a few.

I stepped away from the industry for about 8 years to raise my family.  My husband at the time worked out of town and so we made the choice as a family to have me stay at home, full time.  To be honest, I missed work incredibly and make a better working parent.  Being a stay at home parent is the absolute toughest job in the world!  I struggled to stay relevant with my industry knowledge the whole time I was at home, eventually taking part-time consulting work and volunteering so I could stay engaged, my mind challenged and try to balance my life desires too.

The second significant challenge I had was being a woman in a male-dominated field, especially once I went into the oil and gas industry.  Many times, I was dismissed because I hadn’t roughnecked, or pipelined or moved dirt.  I had to work three times as hard to earn credibility and show value and to be honest, that still occurs, even after 25 years.


Raphaela: How can team members help empower women in the workplace?

Stephanie: I believe there are a few ways that team members can help women in the workplace and the very first thing they can do is to recognize their own biases, especially those that are unconscious.  Biases are natural, and they can be limiting to others if you aren’t aware of yours and how to manage them.  For example, do you assume all women are mothers?  Or that they don’t want to advance their careers and lack “killer instinct?”  Do you assume they can’t travel for work? Or that a young woman will leave to have a family, so she’s not afforded a promotion?    If she is passionate in a meeting, do you call her emotional and her male counterpart demonstrating the same passion as driven? (of course, you can flip this and ask yourself if you have the same unconscious biases towards men)

The second thing you can do is to ensure inclusion of women on your team, and yes that includes things like company golf tournaments, business development opportunities and in meetings, ask for, listen to and acknowledge their contributions too.

The third thing is to call out others who may be showing bias or sexism towards the women on your team.  For example, if there is one woman in the meeting, does someone ask her to get coffee, arrange meals and take minutes? Do you allow the women to be excluded from activities (I had one vice-president tell me I wasn’t allowed to sit at the table with the team during lunch, because I was a “girl.”  Instead of saying something, his team laughed and came to me afterward, individually to apologize.  They said they couldn’t speak up due to peer pressure, but how do you stop bullying?  By standing up).  Are the women on the team referred to as bitches when they are decisive or asked if they are “being hormonal”?  These things happen daily, and we need our teammates to step up and lead a better way.

Raphaela: What are some pieces of advice you’d offer to women and men in the safety world?

Stephanie: There are a few that I have found beneficial in my career.

Firstly, network.  Network while you have a job instead of while you are looking for a job.  Depth and breadth of exposure to other people will enable you to learn more, build bridges, and become a better professional.  Volunteering is a wonderful way to network.

Secondly, continuously learn about “safety.”  Commit to continuous improvement by challenging yourself to learn about a different element of safety, earn a credential, or present what you know at a conference.  Learning to speak confidently in front of your peers can be significantly more challenging than in front of leadership.

Thirdly, learn about something other than safety that will benefit how you do your job.  I am a systems-thinker and work hard to understand all parts of a company, so I know which levers to pull to create sustainable change.  Learn about business and where “safety” fits in the business.  Often people are surprised to see how safety influences the organization beyond execution.

From the Canadian Regional Airlines Flight safety department to becoming an HSE catalyst for change, Stephanie has taken the safety industry by storm. We encourage you to incorporate her takeaways on understanding the work dynamics of women in high-risk industries and stand up for your fellow colleagues.

Like Stephanie, we all know women who champion the safety industry, but we encourage you to take a deeper look and recognize them.

For more information and to nominate an inspirational female leader for our Women in EHS Award awarded at NXT 2019: Women in EHS Award.

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