'If you empower women into top roles in health and safety, you transform the future of work'

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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 for International Women’s Day which is all about how we #EmbraceEquity.

SM: Do you think we would have fewer accidents and cases of ill health if we had more gender and ethnicity diversity, or disabled workers in health and safety?

Evidence supports the idea that having a diverse workforce including (gender, race, and workers with disabilities) in the boardroom and in health and safety roles may reduce the number of accidents and ill health in the workplace. This is because safety issues can be approached from varied angles that may not have previously been considered otherwise.

Research has demonstrated that diverse teams typically outperform homogeneous teams regarding innovation and problem-solving skills. This implies that diverse teams are more likely to recognize and handle health and safety risks and hazards that more homogenous teams may have disregarded. A varied workforce can also help to foster credibility and trust with various populations as well as help to ensure that safety measures are customised to the requirements and experiences of a more extensive range of individuals.

Funmi Adegbola: "International Women’s Day remains a representation of the need for continuous improvements as there is significant amount of work still to be done to ensure workplaces are equal and more importantly equitable."

Diversity in health and safety professions can enhance employee outcomes and contribute to inclusive and healthy workplaces.

In conclusion, International Women’s Day remains a representation of the need for continuous improvements as there is significant amount of work still to be done to ensure workplaces are equal and more importantly equitable.

SM: Have you ever encountered sexism in your journey to the role you find yourself in now and do you see attitudes shifting in terms of sexism for example in work cultures and scenarios like the boardroom?

Hmmm….. This is a complex and very sensitive one for so many reasons considering my experience in recent times.  However, I will share an episode that stands out the most from my string of experiences. My team had to support a project and on getting to the project meeting, I happened to be the first on arrival until others joined. Suddenly, a member from the one of the teams joked about the lack of refreshments and for some odd reason looked at me and said “why don’t you get us something to drink while we wait for the HSSE lead to arrive”.

I could only attribute it to the unconscious bias of the male counterparts from being the only female in the room and a person of colour too, which I humbly indulged their request as the host (no pun intended) and then commenced the meeting as the chair. I am sure you guessed right on how the meeting went from there, fair to say the meeting was the best I have ever chaired.

To be totally open, as a relatively young, black, female leader; I must confess that my challenges over the years in the corporate arena has not only been along the corridor of sexism but several other intersects such as my race, disability, and age. However, I am beginning to see a slight shift in attitudes and culture in the boardroom albeit minuscule, as organisations are becoming more aware and invested in a planned, systematic approach to the mainstreaming of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

Employers are now taking a more conscious approach to gathering, collating, interpreting, researching, and analysing data to assess recruitment and retention practices to some extent as they identify and remove barriers at all stages of the employment cycle.

SM: Why do you think it’s important we have women in senior or top roles in health and safety?

FA: Well, I would like to start with the old African proverb “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family/nation”. So I believe that if you empower women into senior/top roles in health and safety, you transform the future of work and the workplace in general.

Research has also demonstrated that diversity in leadership can enhance organisational performance, notably in health and safety. As such, there are many advantages to having women in leadership roles such as enhanced risk management, ability to drive a more robust safety culture, delivery of higher employee satisfaction, and more efficient communication across the organisation.

Not only does empowering women into senior or top management roles in general demonstrate progression from outdated notions of “it is a man’s world”, especially in the health and safety profession, but it also represents a mark of commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion that ultimately distinguishes a forward-thinking organisation in what is now the new world of work.

Women in high or top positions in health and safety can contribute their distinctive perspectives, experiences, and insights to decision-making processes and improve outcomes for all parties.

Lastly, having women in leadership roles is more likely to encourage younger females to pursue jobs in health and safety particularly as first career choice and aid in breaking down gender barriers by serving as role models for them, bring varied viewpoints and promote inclusivity.

SOWSHE-A is hosting an online event on Friday 10 March, 2pm to 4pm (GMT) for International Women's day. Register here

At the event
Dr Julie Riggs will join panellists to discuss the challenges and opportunities of embracing equity through collaboration, inclusion and empowerment.



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