Improving career paths for women in HSEQ

HSEQ Careers, gender pay, EDI

For many years the health and safety industry has been a male dominated domain. Images of men, wearing hard hats, and clutching a clip boards came with the territory. But in recent times that stereo type has been challenged. There are more women than ever before in the industry, which is increasing the visibility of a career in HSEQ and it’s potential trajectory.

However, female representation in the industry still remains low. There is a gender-split ratio of 3:1 in favour of men. Moreover, women are getting paid less for doing the same jobs. There is an 18% gender pay gap between men and women in similar roles. Clearly there is still work to be done.

The question is what? Increasing the number of women in the industry and closing the gender pay gap is a complex business – dependent on many different variables.


One important step has been the increase in transparency. With compulsory gender pay reporting for all organisations with more than 250 employees, the information is out there in the public domain. The gender pay figures have revealed other important factors in gender equality in health and safety careers. They highlight the significant deficit of the number of women who occupy more senior and higher paid roles within HSEQ in the UK, compared to the men who occupy them. The lack of female leaders in HSEQ suggests a glass ceiling in the industry. But to improve things we need to move the conversation forward. From identifying where the industry is now, to where we want it to go – and how we get there.


Promoting inclusion and diversity in HSEQ careers
Recognizing that equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is an important agenda throughout the organisation is the first step to removing barriers. HR practices should be leading the way here. And many are. Here is a great example of how EDI is being embraced by an organisations with a traditionally male dominated work force.


HS2, for example has explicitly stated that they want to be, ‘ an exemplar of equality, diversity and inclusion within our industry’. In the last 12 months alone they have increased the representation of women in leadership positions by  by 6%. Their commitment is manifest in their trial of new recruitment methods. This includes removing CV’s from the recruitment process and using ‘blind auditioning’ to test technical skills. As a result the number of women shortlisted for technical roles in HS2 has increased from 17% to 47%. This determination to lead the way in EDI is already changing the way the sector recruits and relationships with contractors and recruitment partners. HS2 is clear that all of their major contractors meet the commitments set out in their contracts to promote inclusion and diversity.


More than one solution

There are clearly, two prevalent issues for women working, or considering working in the HSEQ profession. Firstly, pay equality with men and the opportunity to progress into leadership positions. Some of the challenges are about moving away from traditional images of a Health and Safety professional. It’s also about earlier engagement with women about the fantastic opportunities  a career in HSEQ can offer. And engagement shouldn’t stop there. It’s about providing ongoing career advice. At the same time, it’s about looking at better recruitment and retention processes, alongside re-imagining what great leadership looks like.

Here are just a few ideas about how organisations can improve the career path for women in HSEQ.


Good equality and diversity practice is really just good people practice
  • Promote inclusion in all recruitment strategies:  Remove gendered language on job adverts, application forms, screening applications, marketing and websites. Show that you are actively seeking a diverse profile of candidates by being explicit – putting ‘(M/F)’ next to the job title show that you are EDI aware and reduces candidates self-selecting out. Use gender balanced selection panels for interviews. Competency based interviews leave less room for bias and allow greater objectivity.
  • Flexible work opportunities for everyone:   Job-share, home working, term-time hours. It’s easy to assume that all jobs must be full-time, but to access a bigger and better talent pool we need to challenge these assumptions. it’s important to be clear that flexible work practice is good for everyone – not just women.
  • Transparency:  Gender pay reporting has been a good first step but we need transparency in all areas. This should include looking at our HSEQ talent piplelines to ensure they are diverse and map out where there is a shortage of sought after skills. Then we need to apply more objective attraction strategies to source them.
  • Attract more women into the industry earlier:  Women tend to start later in health and safety, often as a second career. This means they have a greater distance to ‘catch-up’ in the leadership stakes in comparison to men. We need to understand why fewer women are choosing HSEQ as a first career and look at how we attract and advise them earlier on.
  • Careers information network for all age groups:  We don’t just need careers advice at the beginning of our career, we need it all the way through – particularly at pivotal points.
  • Consider working as a contractor:  agency work can often be a way for people to enter the job market. Perhaps in a temporary role initially. This can often lead to permanent opportunities later on. This is particularly true of the public sector
  • Championing a broader range of role models:  We need to increase the visibility of women in Health and safety roles, whether it be on websites, marketing, or the photographs on our office walls. Mentoring and sponsorship schemes are also important tools in developing women’s careers
  • Tackle stereo-types of what makes a good leader:  Challenge what may be old ideas of leadership and the ways in which it is personified (white, male?) Sometimes what is considered ‘normal’ in your organisation just means ‘the way we have always done things’. Similarly, there should be no fixed path to leadership.
  • Investigate what ‘cultural fit’ means in your organisation:  Often when we recruit, we look for people who seem similar to us. Is not being the ‘right fit’ for the job  just code for ‘they weren’t somebody like me’? Whilst a homogeneous workforce my be harmonious, it’s not necessarily effective  –  leading to ‘groupthink’  . Concentrating on, and recruiting for competencies and skills – both technical and soft – is a much better way of developing your talent pipline.


Women leading in Health and Safety

Whether it’s improving recruitment practice, sharing stories about the industry, or addressing barriers to entry, it’s important to keep the conversation going.

In June, we’ll be hosting an evening networking event for HSEQ professionals, providing:

  • Insight into EDI recruitment best practice
  • Attraction and selection case studies in the Health and Safety industry
  • Leadership stories: How to navigate your Health and safety career from women in the industry.


For more details about this informative evening:

email Francesca Crossley at f.crossley@douglas-stuart.com or call 0161 967 9674