Women & Safety Keynote – one year later

The following is an article version of my speaking notes from the VPPPA Safety+ event in August 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. I was one of three speakers given the opportunity to deliver a ten-minute keynote address in Ted Talk style. The other two speakers were Frank King and Glenn Trout. I was the second speaker in front of the crowd of over 3,000 VPPPA members and supporters.

These notes have been kept in my Google Keep app, and I felt now, a year later, was a great time to share them with you! I’ve added some links to take you to further resources. My original notes were organized in one statement per line so I could easily review them before the keynote. I used a memory and visualization technique I learned from Linda Tapp called the Method of Loci to commit the info to memory in short time to deliver the keynote without notes.

If you want the full experience, download the keynote slides that appeared behind me, reach out with any questions, anytime.

Abby Ferri Women & Safety Keynote

Good Afternoon!

As a woman in safety, one of my roles is Administrator of the ASSP’s Women in Safety Excellence common interest group. In this position, I’m often asked for my take on current events related to safety.

One such item in the past year was the NASA space suit saga, when a spacewalk was cancelled because the two women were not able to be outfitted in space suits that fit them. Women in trades, manufacturing, oil & gas, emergency response, law enforcement, and women safety professionals saw their stories reflected in what happened with the women astronauts. It became an accidental pivotal moment for safety concerns that disproportionately impact women – not just PPE fit, but other topics as well.

Besides the fairly easy-to-talk-about issue of PPE fit, WISE focused on two other issues impacting women: workplace violence and women in safety leadership roles in safety. These 3 topics were discussed in the fall of 2018 with over 50 people representing multiple industries and viewpoints. You can download the report at www.assp.org/womensreport

My interest in the topic of workplace violence started when I stumbled on a statistic about 5 years ago that homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. It shocked me and I didn’t believe it at first because it was something that had not been talked about in my safety circles. As I repeated the statistic, I found that others were just as surprised. It’s a tough topic because as safety professionals, we want to work on being proactive and preventing things from occurring. This is difficult when more than 25% of these homicides are committed by someone known to the victim, and 16% are related to domestic violence – these are society problems that we often do not think of as workplace problems.

It has become important to clarify to safety peers that society concerns do not stop at the doors of our workplaces or the fences of our jobsites – society’s problems ARE our workplace problems. This reasoning leads easily to other society problems of the moment including opioids and other substance abuse, and access and utilization of mental health resources. Which also lead us to Total Worker Health, which I am so excited about.

The next topic WISE chose to focus on is women in leadership roles in EH&S. This means manager, director, and executive “C-Suite” roles. While women are rising in numbers in EH&S careers, they are not represented equitably in these highest of leadership roles. When you dig in to this topic, you find that women often leave a workplace before promotions can occur, often due to family commitments, birth of a child and the ensuing care of a newborn, or caring for an elder family member, and maybe do not re-enter the workplace until years later when they may be treated as a newcomer instead of an experienced professional who is back and ready, qualified, and more than able to lead.

Women in these roles cannot be discussed without addressing the salary gap that exists, even in our industry. One can look at industry salary surveys to easily find these real numbers. Regardless of leadership level, our industry still faces a safety professional shortage. When we are losing qualified women, our entire industry suffers. Encouraging young women to enter the safety career path and STAY IN it has become one of the most important goals of my professional life.

PPE fit, the easiest to talk about, is the work group that I led at the Women’s Workplace Safety Summit and continue to lead as we draft a Technical Report. In short, our goal is to ensure resources so employers provide options for women, and all workers then benefit from this custom approach to size and fit.

Fall protection is one area that is easy to address this topic, fall protection harness testing guidelines are meant for persons ranging from 130 pounds to 310 pounds. This is an easy one because we all know safety professionals that are outside of that range – tell them that harnesses do not need to be tested to THEIR body – you’ll get a response!

One of the key themes from the Summit is that going to the margins of the margins to address problems can benefit all. In this example – workwear geared towards women is now being purchased by men who prefer a slimmer fit compared to traditional workwear that is bulky. The look of our workforce is changing, and manufacturers need to keep up.

Women in safety have come far, but have work to do. I feel we are in exciting times as inactive supporters are becoming engaged allies, this is what is needed to truly make change. What can you do?

Men, we aren’t leaving you out, and, we don’t hate you! The reality is that male voices are often the majority at industry events like this. I’m grateful to J.A. Rodriguez for putting my name in front of the speakers committee for this event!

If you’re a man and find yourself on an all-male panel for a conference or webinar, or other event –  step down or ask one of your women colleagues to take your place or join the panel.

If you’re a supervisor or someone in charge of promoting and hiring, step back and look at your team. Are voices missing? Add them by promoting and hiring.

Speaking of hiring, guide your organization in creating better media to depict real women working for your website images, campus recruiting ads, and internal company newsletters.

This all may seem daunting, but YOU can help – start at your own organization, volunteer to bring women in STEM to school career fairs, call out bad marketing and imaging when you see it – overall, demand better.

As you can tell, I’m passionate about this, I volunteer to provide safety training to Girl Scouts before they build amazing things at STEM camps, and have talked to students as young as 5 years old about safety as a career path.

I’m usually game for a conversation and can help point YOU in a positive and active direction. Find me here at the conference or on social media.

THANK YOU and keep an open mind this week and beyond. THANK YOU

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