Canadian Occupational Safety

May/June 2020

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 31 of 35

F E A T U R E 32 A FORCE FOR CHANGE Canadian Occupational Safety held the inaugural Women in Safety event this year, offering a dynamic space for women and men to discuss and address current hot-button issues in the occupational health and safety sector THIS year marks the first time the event was held; the inaugural edition was hosted in Calgary on March 5 at Delta Calgary Downtown. The conference played out over the day, with panels focusing on current issues facing women in the workplace, notably PPE and gender-based workplace harassment. Occupational health and safety specialists gathered to discuss the importance of women in the safety field. We touched base with three key participants to discuss the day's events and issues facing women in the workplace: chairperson Sheri Benson, founder of Calgary-based Thrive Safety Consulting; Stephanie Benay, director of safety system & assurance at BC Hydro; and Reshma Sukdhoe, corporate health and safety specialist with the Electric Safety Authority of Ontario. Benay and Sukdhoe spoke on the day's first panel, overcoming common barriers: climbing the corporate ladder. This year's media partner for the event was grass-roots organization Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society (WOHSS), of which Benay and Sukdhoe are members as vice chairperson and director, respectively. Benay said of the event: "That entire day was a career highlight for me — it was phenomenal. The conversation was frank and authentic… It was amazing… Being there to share the experience of 25 years and to answer some really good questions, [it was] a safe space to answer questions they couldn't necessarily ask in their workspaces." The event was stacked with specialists whose main goal for the day was to discuss how they can improve women's experience in the workplace. Benson was the ideal chairperson for the event and shame that we are not given the privilege of making mistakes and being forgiven for them. It is what makes us human," Benay says. Luckily, our cover stars think that things are moving in the right direction. Says Sukdhoe, "[The industry] changed and it's changing very quickly." She says there are now more women in senior roles and that a change is happening. "I think in the next five to 10 years we're going to see women coming into health and safety roles and women getting more confident and wanting to study this as a career path… There's lots of scholarships out there for women… We have societies which want to empower women, network and bring them up through their career." Our three cover stars all have one thing in common: a desire to help mentor other women, to inspire other women to join the OHS space, which is still largely dominated at the highest level by men. "I find that there are mostly health and safety specialists and managers [that are women]," says Sukdhoe. "Rarely do you get women getting into her opening and closing remarks bookended the day perfectly. Of her experience, she says: "It was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to share my journey and what led me to start consulting. It was well received and I got a lot of good feedback." Breaking the glass ceiling One of the key themes of the event was the idea of climbing the corporate ladder. Still, one of the main problems getting in the way of women acceding to management positions is the lack of confidence they have. Says Benay, "Moving ahead in organizations is a problem for us. In safety, the general issues are managing the biases… advocating and embracing your career." She says women often struggle with imposter syndrome. That, in combination with the fact that they are often having to justify their safety expertise and credibility on a daily basis, does not build confidence. "If you admit to not knowing or being wrong, the judgment that is bestowed upon you stays for a very long time. You have to be twice as good and twice as smart. It's a director and VP roles. I'm not sure why considering how important it is. This was a role that was male dominated, it was not something women wanted to aspire to be before." She adds, "In my experience, if you're in a meeting and you're surrounded by all males, everything you say is analyzed to a greater degree. Women are so conscious of that." On the plus side, Sukdhoe says that "women are becoming more confident and given more opportunities; now that the risks are more addressed in the workplace, it's something that they can see themselves doing." Feeling the pressure With all the pressures facing women in the workplace, it is no surprise that mental well-being is such a huge concern. Benson started her company, Thrive Safety Consulting, with a focus on organizational culture and putting the "health" back in health and safety. After experiencing first-hand just how important mental well-being in the workplace is, she felt called to help people realize the same. "Mental health is such a huge issue," she says. "Without strong management and with toxic culture, you can't heal in that environment." Benson continues, "The conference was a celebration for me in the sense where the switch turned on, where I felt like I really stepped into what I had been working toward. Basically, a dream come true for me to be on that stage and sharing my story. It was a very empowering moment for me, and I know this is just the beginning." Mental well-being was one of the many important conversations that "In my experience, if you're in a meeting and you're surrounded by all males, everything you say is analyzed to a greater degree. Women are so conscious of that." Reshma Sukdhoe, corporate health and safety specialist with the Electric Safety Authority of Ontario

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