International Women’s Day: A time to reflect on progress while nurturing and cheering the future
By Maureen Shaw
It’s International Women’s Day 2023. A day to celebrate the amazing women who make our world, communities, our families better for everyone.
A day we recognize the many amazing women who have come before us and those who are breaking boundaries today and will in the future. It’s a day when we talk about the progress we have made, and the progress needed for the future.
Origins: Commemoration of 1908 Garment Workers’ Strike
I would bet many of my colleagues don’t know that the first recorded Women’s Day was in the United States. It commemorated the 1908 Garment Workers’ Strike protesting their working conditions.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Greenwich Village, New York City occurred on March 25, 1911 where 146 garment workers were killed – 123 of them women. It was these women who were responsible for the beginning of legislation and investigations and workers’ compensation which began to occur for the health and safety of workers’ in the United States and Canada. It was the beginning of the development of health and safety as a profession.
Plenty of progress
We have come a long way since 1908. I have had the privilege of being part of many changes in workplace health and safety and the role of women.
When I first started in the early 1980s I was the only woman.
I knew I was breaking barriers; however, I was so committed to the purpose of our work that I didn’t stop to think about what I was really doing for a very long time. When I look back there are so many stories to tell.
I was so often the only woman at the table. And so often challenged in a way my male colleagues were not. From bullying to jokes to advances to physical and psychological abuse to an attempted coup. I was blessed to have so many who walked with me. Many of them men.
OHS Honours gala showed progress
I have tried to be a good mentor and advisor to many women in our business and outside it. In September 2022, I was in Toronto for the OHS Canada Honours Gala. It was a wonderful event, and the room was full of talented, eager, dedicated health and safety professionals.
As I looked out over the room and witnessed the number of women who were there as leaders I fought back tears.
We have come a long way baby! Those striking women in 1908 will be celebrating today. But as we recognize the progress and successes we must continue to nurture, to mentor and to cheer on women.
I also believe it is important to understand the past to create the future. I hope this little bit of history will prod some deeper thinking and commitment to continue to move forward to create a healthy, safe, and fulfilling future for us all.
Maureen Shaw was inducted into OHS Canada’s Hall of Fame in 2022. She is the former president and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (IAPA, now WSPS) and a founding board member of Executive Health & Safety Council of BC. She is also national-international relations advisor for the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC serves on numerous advisory boards, among other duties.