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Celebrating Diversity in OHS

Monday, 18 December, 2017 - 12:00
Industry news

In September 2017, the Women in Safety & Health (WISH) national network came together for the first time to launch their strategic plan, to cross-promote the SIA Mentoring program and to set a new standard of action towards the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion across the WHS industry. 

The WISH network is steered by the deeply committed SIA members of Kelly Lovely, Alena Titterton, Sarah-Jane Dunford (NSW), Julie Gratton, Sarah Cuscadden (Victoria), Samantha White (QLD), Lauren Jago (Tasmania), Amanda Day (ACT), Ria Smith (WA) and Andrew Barrett along with the SA Branch (SA).   

Supported by Clyde & Co for our launch, we achieved some great numbers with 200 people (both female and male) in attendance (TAS -26, SA - 18, WA - 21, QLD – 34, NSW – 57, ACT – 11, VIC – 33) and 6 new formal mentoring relationships recognized after the event.  

Supported by Steve Coldicutt and the team at safesearch, WISH also launched its 2017 Leadership Survey and are committed to the feedback from the people of our profession on:

  1.     the current balance of participation in the WHS profession in Australia from the perspectives of gender, ethnicity and orientation;
  2.     the current balance in leadership representation in the WHS profession in Australia from the perspectives of gender, ethnicity and orientation;
  3.     the current position on gender pay equity in the WHS profession in Australia.
  4.     the needs and interests of the WHS profession, and those considering entering the WHS profession, for further research and exploration. 

How do you see WISH contributing to improved diversity in the OHS profession?

The WISH network stands by to its goal of diversity and inclusion across the Australian WHS profession and in practice and to its strategic actions around mentoring, research and thought leadership, social media & marketing and collaboration with other forums to network and create events.  We know that we have a lot of work to do but we are determined, prepared and supportive of our male champions of change to lend a hand along the way.  

What were some key/initial findings of the leadership survey?

The response we received was overwhelming with, at the close of business on 30 October 2017, 445 people responding and submitting a full response to our online survey. Whilst time is needed to more deeper analyze the results, the demographics of those that responded continue to be those employed in high-risk industries, with experience and long lengths of service employed as on a full time basis and identifying as heterosexual and Australian. Interestingly the majority of respondents were male and largely degree (and above) qualified. This beggars the question – are we on tapping into the market that is most likely to influence positive change across the WHS profession (yes!) or are we still thinking about action? By our standards, were ready to change.

What are the implications of these findings for the OHS profession?

Again more time is needed to analyze. From an early review, the key themes that are remerging are:

Barriers - A wide-ranging list of barriers and challenges exist that are preventing the advancement into leadership positions of our respondents. They range from interpersonal concerns (such as a lack of confidence and a lack of support) to structural issues (such as inadequate resources) and finally toward concerns around the long-standing and entranced cultural issues of unconscious bias, a masculine / male dominated working environment and the lack of flexibility across the profession;

Mentors - The benefits of and access to mentoring and the role that mentors and sponsors play continues to be poorly understood and inconsistently applied. It remains a “sand-pit” of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’;

Outside pursuits - Most respondents reported that they are heavily committed to their roles as carers and volunteers and they enjoy their non-work pursuits, additionally study and flexible working arrangements;

Gender Pay Equity - Whilst some intent does appear to be there, diversity and gender equality follow through (that is, action!) remains inconsistent with basic activities like the auditing of business and teams around gender pay equity (wages, salaries and bonuses for WHS professionals) has largely not started or, if started, has largely not realized any benefits for the people of our profession.

The ageing of the profession (and feelings around discrimination on the basis of maturing age and an inadequate level of support for those younger people entering the profession) was a continual commentary and should be an area of leadership improvement in the years to come.

The full results of the Leadership Survey will be available in early December 2017.

What are the next steps for WISH?

We at both the WISH network and across our combined social media and marketing platform are all-keen to hear your stories and make sure we are representing your concerns and experiences as we progress our strategic plan into 2018.

Should you like to help or if you think you have an action area for us to focus on, please drop any of us a line. Currently we are looking for expertise and action in:
The area of research on gender equity and the safety profession,

  • Support for the SIA mentoring program in order for it to be more highly promoted / utilised / effective and responsive to the needs and wants of women and girls in (or wanting to join) the WHS profession;
  • Stand-out males who are prepared to be our #malechampionsofchange;
  •  Collaboration with other relevant and relatable forums to network and create great events – so that we can we move forward!