Female Leaders in Occupational Safety & Health: Perceived Barriers & Potential Interventions

As a student in the Educational Leadership Doctoral Program at Western Kentucky University (WKU) I was fortunate enough to be able to complete a couple of elective courses specifically focused on female leadership. This led to my interest in wanting to know how women felt about their jobs and what could be done to improve not only their work life but their overall well-being. Women are usually balancing multiple roles and we know that can be both mentally and physically exhausting. After seeing the article from the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) about the low number of women in the safety field, and being a female in this industry myself, it really made me want to understand how that influences women in the industry and how we could make it easier for other women to get into what I think is a great career.

Key Insights

  • Fifteen interviews conducted with women in the safety industry ranging from 2 to more than 20 years of experience

  • Six barriers were identified by a majority of participants. These included:

    • Work hours and travel required

    • A lack of formal education in the safety industry prior to beginning their career

    • The low number of females overall in the safety industry
    • Frequently having their authority questioned while performing their job
    • A stigma of the safety industry not being for females
    • Being young and inexperienced adding to frustrations performing their job
  • Three major types of interventions were identified. These included:
    • Resources including those related to childcare and maternity leave, financial support, and flexibility in scheduling
    • Training including leadership training and specific occupational safety and health topics
    • Support mechanisms including support from upper management, mentorship programs, and having the support of a safety team