Women’s safety society working towards a better future
Much work remains in male-dominated OHS profession: chair
It is an exciting time to work in the occupational health and safety profession.
Such a career provides endless flexibility and diversity — as this type of work can be done across virtually any industry.
OHS professionals also have the ability to impact the well-being of front-line workers, but also the overall health of the organization.
While the number of women working in safety is rising, at present, OHS remains a male-dominated profession. Over the past 40 years, just 30 per cent of safety professionals to be certified by the Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals (BCRSP) were female.
The gender gap in OHS becomes more even more evident with increasing levels of seniority. Women tend to be underrepresented at all levels of management — from the front-line to the C-suite.
Gender imbalance exists
OHS professionals work in and support a wide range of industries such as construction, energy, mining, utilities and health care.
It is important to recognize that gender imbalances exist in the OHS profession and in certain industries more than others.
Women in OHS can face unique challenges that our male colleagues may not, such as:
- Female safety face concerns around personal safety when working in remote locations or living in camps.
- Issues related to diversity, inclusion, harassment and discrimination in the workplace are unfortunately a reality that many women will face.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) is usually tailored to men, so finding equipment that fits a woman’s body properly can be a challenge.
These are just a few of the reasons why a group of like-minded OHS professionals — all women — got together and formed the Women in Occupational Health and Safety Society (WOHSS).
The society provides a safe place for women to hold difficult conversations without the fear of being judged, and is a major part of making things better for those women coming up behind us.
Incorporated as a not-for-profit society in 2017, WOHSS is a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting women working in OHS in Canada.
It supports women through education, mentoring, resources and connection. Building women’s networking groups and recognizing gender issues within a profession can increase awareness, promote person growth and drive positive advancement.
With over 200 members across Canada, WOHSS welcomes women and men at all stages of their careers — from OHS students to those in senior-executive roles.
The wide diversity in membership has contributed to the success of the WOHSS mentorship program. Participant feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
This year, WOHSS has hosted several events and networking sessions including a Professional Polish event in Toronto on Nov. 27.
For some, it’s personal
Working in male-dominated industries such as construction, utilities and energy, it was common for me to be the only woman in the room.
Like many women, I have been personally impacted by issues in the workplace such as:
- a lack of access to mentors
- inadequate networking opportunities
- gender bias
- sexual harassment.
Thinking back to situations I found myself in at age 25, I wish I had someone to provide me with insight, advice or even just a sympathetic ear.
This is what I would like WOHSS to be — the opportunity for women in various career stages to come together, engage and support each other.
Because empowered women empower women.
Paula Campkin is chair of the Women in Occupational Health and Safety Society (WOHSS) in Calgary.