Opinion

'Minority groups are still underrepresented in health and safety'

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Funmi Adegbola is founder of the Society of Women in Safety Health and Environment-Africa (SOWSHE-A) which gives support to female professionals in safety, health and environment (SHE) through mentorship and training. Safety Management catches up with Funmi to discuss diversity in health and safety.


1. Do you think we have an issue with diversity in the health and safety profession?

I think that diversity within the health and safety profession is very poor in some sectors more than others. 

A good example is the construction sector, which is one of the worst industries where there is an obvious lack of diversity in my humble opinion with a number of empirical evidences. An industry with 10 per cent of women and about 10 per cent of minorities ethnic groups can only translate to the need for improvements. 

Sadly, industries with some level of diversity seem to have a cement roof that cannot be penetrated, hence these minorities never get the opportunity to progress into senior roles. 

2. Why do you think that is and why is it important to change that? 

Funmi Adegbola: "Sadly, industries with some level of diversity seem to have a cement roof that cannot be penetrated."

I believe this is the case partly due to some unconscious biases from some employers and recruiters. Employers need to partner with recruitment firms with a broad and balanced talent pool in order to diversify the workforce.  

Another major contribution to this challenge is the lack of identification. What do I mean by this? When a minority has no faces to identify with on an interview panel, that in itself can impact the performance/delivery of the candidate. So, exploring anonymous recruitment processes, ensuring a balanced interview panel and improved promotion/pay structures would be a good start to the changes required. 

This change is crucial for employers as they will benefit from the broader views in the boardroom and therefore enjoy more objective decision making. Minority candidates should be encouraged to consider health and safety as either a first or second career choice, and employers must support their career paths towards directorship so that they have a say on those boards. 

Today, we often hear about minorities’ pay gap and gender pay. This is a reality that needs to be taken seriously with ‘real’ interest. There are a lot of pockets of ‘empty’ initiatives and not enough actions to change this narrative. Another important reason to change this narrative is genuinely moving from hiring minorities as a tick box exercise to giving them opportunities of having their voices heard and a sense of belonging. 

3. How can we make the health and safety sector more inclusive? 

We must think about the image and reputation the sector sends as a signal to the outside world. In times past, the health and safety profession is mainly seen as the job of a middle aged male Caucasian; which of course we can see has evolved over time.  

Despite the evolution and changes, the reality is that minority groups are still underrepresented and the way to make the profession more inclusive is going back to basics. It starts with language – how we talk about the profession and use language to appeal to minority groups to join the profession. Then, it’s about getting those underrepresented groups alongside others to partner with schools, universities and share experiences in order to increase knowledge, passion and drive results through data and lesson learned. That way, those in these education settings are encouraged and empowered to aspire for greatness and let them know race, gender and other characteristics are no limitations. 

4. What health and safety issues have a particular impact on black and minority ethnic working people? 

Mental health for minorities working groups is something to keep an eye on. Some struggle with the sense of not being enough, even though they may be either equally qualified or more than their non-minority contemporaries, in addition to other issues weighed against them such as economic and social factors.

5. What companies do you know of who are doing good work in this space?

I am sure there are a number of organisations that are springing up with what looks like prioritising the agenda of equality and diversity. However, I also want to note that we should not be fooled by noises around Diversity and Inclusion as some ‘champions’ are more for PR campaign purposes. If you really want to know those that are walking the talk, just check their data, the visibility and diversity at higher leadership level in those organisations.  

I am associated with a Society called the Society of Women in Safety Health and Environment Africa (SOWSHE-A). A non-profit organisation with the primary objective to empower and develop both existing and aspiring female professionals in safety, health and environment (SHE) through mentorship, training, advice, advocacy, connecting people and organisations. SOWSHE-A strives to encourage ethnic minority women and male allies in Africa and beyond to overlook the colour of their skin as a barrier and strongly believe in themselves by considering health and safety as a first or second career choice and excel in it too. 

5.This interview is for Black History Month – do you know of any black health and safety professionals who we should celebrate?  

There are a number of people that come to mind but I wish to celebrate an outstanding professional colleague like myself that keeps breaking the barriers. 

I choose to celebrate Jessy Gomes for her resilience, professionalism and passion for diversity awareness in the health and safety space.  

Jessy Gomes Moreira is a French National with Cape Verde Islands origin and a member of Health and Safety Practitioners (CMIOSH); and an advocate for equality and career advancement for women in the workplace. 

 

 

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