International Women’s Day: A Roundtable on Safety Insights

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — When you think of safety there is so much to consider. This includes what it is like for women who are engaged in helping to promote safety in the workplace. For this International Women’s Day, we salute women who are helping to keep workplaces safe in every kind of industry.

We have assembled some of our brightest ladies from our Technical Services department to share some of their thoughts and insights about what women bring to the table when helping ensure safety.

Communication is Key

For instance, 3M technical training and education specialist, Kathy Thompson, CIH, MPH, MS, reminds us that, “Safety requires interaction with all levels of people – from production workers to high-level scientists – and women tend to be well-suited for communication skills requiring that breadth.”

Cassie Jacobson, the technical service manager in the Personal Safety Division at 3M, agrees that communication is key. “As a woman in the workplace, I believe that we have to continually develop our skills around communication and organizational savvy to able to influence in all directions and be most effective at our jobs.”

Education and Training Add Credibility

International Women's DayKathy also believes that, “Being technically strong is important for all health and safety professionals, but perhaps more so for women as you will be challenged and need to be technically confident in your responses in addition to being able to understand what you don’t know. Sometimes, the role requires very unpopular recommendations at the jobsite, which can require additional skills if they are being made by a woman.”

Kathy has noticed that sometimes women are challenged in their technical knowledge and abilities – often, it seems, more than men are. But the great thing about occupational health and safety fields is that there are certifications that you can earn, such as the CIH and CSP, which demonstrate empirically that you know your stuff.

Amanda L. Rice, CIH, CSP, who is an advanced industrial hygiene specialist at 3M also stresses the important of communication and training. “I work in the Lab EHS department and I support the CRL Labs on campus. My technical training from school and on the job has to be blended with communication skills. When these two skills come together, we can make change and impact on the health and safety of our customers and co-workers.”

Building Rappaport as a Woman in the Safety Space

Kathy also thinks that, “It is important to understand what it is like to walk in the workers’ shoes – you have much more credibility if you can speak their language and relate to their work, even more so if you have done that type of work.” She goes onto to say that, “Women now have more opportunities to have done what may have been male-dominated work in the past, but in many cases woman health and safety professionals may have not worked in environments that they are now in charge of safety for. Finding opportunities to better understand that worker’s world is always helpful when providing direction, and requires listening and observation skills if it is not a work environment you are familiar with.”

Jessica Hauge, CIH, CSP, who works in 3M’s Personal Safety Division Technical Service, echoes this sentiment and points out that sometimes people who are in occupational health and safety roles haven’t had an opportunity to work in the environments that workers spend their days in – and that that can influence the rapport that you’re able to establish with those workers.

But, she is quick to point out that, “I’ve also experienced that sometimes this works the opposite way. Women are perceived by many to be naturally nurturing. I’ve experienced situations where workers will welcome an opportunity to partner with me in order to help characterize and mitigate their risk of occupational injury and disease, even when they’ve resisted cooperating with my male predecessors.”

Cassie sums up the feeling of many of the women who work in the safety space at 3M, “Working in the health and safety industry has been personally rewarding – knowing that we are providing products that protect workers every day.”