Episode #176:  Women in Leadership


Host:  Hi I’m Susan Freeman, today's host of a special CCOHS conversation, with two guests Lee-Anne Lyon-Bartley, Executive Vice President of Health Safety Environment and Quality for Dextera Group Inc. and Janet Manila, certified Canadian Registered Safety Professional and Vice President of Operations at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, CCOHS.  Leanne and Janet, welcome. Thank you both for being here with us today.  

Both:  Thank you.

Host:  In today's conversation, we're going to talk about the experiences of women who are working in fields that are typically male-dominated.  One field in particular that we’ll be focusing on is health and safety. We're going to speak to our guests about their thoughts and expertise on women's roles in leadership and they'll provide insights on how to address stereotypes and inequalities in the workplace. So to help us get started, I’m going to ask a blanket question for both our guests.  Leanne, let's start with you. Tell me your story, what led you to become part of the field of health and safety.

Lee-Anne:  Oh, thank you Sue. And again, hi Janet. So I just wanted to share my journey and it started way back when. I actually used to work for a very large grocery company when I was in high school and when I left university, I studied Public Health at Ryerson. I was thankful enough to have a choice to make between taking an opportunity with that large grocery company, and it was an entry-level Health Safety Analyst position and they were just getting started implementing their entire Health and Safety Food Safety and Environmental Health Program for the company.  So it was a great opportunity and instead of doing my practicum with a large health region, I took the opportunity with the company that I was already working for.  And that's where the journey started, and then from there, I did some auditing across the country. I moved from Ontario to live and work in Fort McMurray, Alberta, and you know those opportunities just kept opening up one after the other in health and safety.  But also most of my rolls also included food, safety, support as well.

Host:  That's fantastic. Thank you Leanne.  Janet, what about you? What led you to become part of health and safety?

Janet:  Yeah, I actually started out not in safety. I originally went to school for languages actually and then once I completed that, I moved into the realm of HR.  Just happened to fall into that from an administrative role, moved into HR and slowly started getting safety responsibilities as part of my portfolio. And from there, I felt like I needed to take some courses.

So I went back to school, went to Ryerson as well, and did the health and safety program. And then from there I moved into a manufacturing environment for steel fabrication, and they did not have a health and safety program, and recently had had back then, they had a Ministry of Labour inspector come in and they had many orders. And so that started their journey on a Health and safety program and so I was brought in to do Human Resources and health and safety, and then slowly that became just as a health and safety job.

And so I stayed in that environment for probably five or six years and then I moved on to post-secondary and I worked at Conestoga college, and that's like any post-secondary institution, it's like a small city in itself. It has all components of safety in all genres and all disciplines and really cut my teeth in learning all the different aspects of safety. And so that's really where my journey took me, and now I'm with CCOHS and I'm on the other side of safety and it's just really great to be part of it still.

Host:  Thank you so much Janet, wonderful. And so we've heard now you've both been involved in health and safety for many years and Lee-Anne you've been working in this industry at various levels from analyst’s roles and to where you are now at the executive level, and on top of that you also teach we understand, so fantastic.

So in all of these years, you've probably seen and experienced a lot. Can you share with us any personal challenges you face in your field or challenges and perhaps related to gender in any particular role?

Lee-Anne:  Yeah, you know when I look back and it's funny because I was thinking about this before we had this conversation. I am looking actually quite a ways back now, but you know, I looked back and I realized that although I was very fortunate to work for forward-thinking companies, you know, when you get in, it's usually very entry level and it's very easy to get stuck there or left there because people don't necessarily think or think to look at what are the possibilities or opportunities for people like me.  And when I see people like me, yes, I'm a woman and I think too often, you know women in health and safety get stuck in those administrative roles, and no one really gives them the opportunity to move into a managerial role or move into, you know, something beyond those administrative support roles.

If you look, most of our health and safety administrators out there are women and I recognize that that could be a potential pigeon hole where they just don't give you that opportunity and I think from early, I kept asking myself and looking for those opportunities and talking to my boss and saying, you know, I do want more, you know, what do I need to do to further develop myself.  And I kind of had to advocate for myself.

Now when I moved to Fort McMurray from here in Ontario, you know there was a lot of challenges and I think people often underestimated my capabilities, without even knowing me or without even having a conversation with me, and made assumptions about what she can and cannot do.  And I recognize that and I felt that often from people and even some of the comments people would make, it’s like oh, you know, how did you get this job or who do you know? I've had those types of questions and I think you know, don't let that stop you, you know, and you really have to find that confidence in yourself to know that you got that position not because of anything other than the fact that you were capable of doing the job and meeting the requirements.  And those are some of the challenges that I faced over the years.  I've experienced being in the room full of people that are not women and being talked over or being sort of pushed aside. You know, I've really have experienced all of those things that many other women talk about when they’re in those environments and it can be tough.

And I think you know my time again and Alberta and even in other positions here in Ontario really help to strengthen me to realize that you know, it's not about me, right, when those things happen, and then I just really need to make space because not everyone is going to make space for you. And that's what I've kind of learned over the years, that regardless of the circumstances, there is a way to still push forward and that really has to do with you.  And also, you know, I made sure that I stayed on top of knowledge, right, constant learning, making sure that I knew my craft and my craft is health and safety.  And that really also does help when you're able to have that confidence and comfort that you know what you're talking about.  You know, I think that really makes a big difference and those are some of the challenges that I've faced over the years.

Host:  Thank you so much Lee-Anne, that was very powerful, very evocative, good thoughts to share and impart.  Over to Janet. You also have been involved academically and hands-on with occupational health and safety for a number of years. And as you said, now you’re here at Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). What inequalities or biases may you’ve experienced because of your gender?

Janet:   I echo a lot of what’s said.  I followed a very similar path.   I have been the only woman in the room. I've been the only woman on the plant floor and I echo what she said, is that there are times where you are pushed out and your voice is not heard, and even though you are the subject matter expert in the room and you understand and know your craft inside and out, oftentimes your voice is not loud enough or it's just something that they're not interested in hearing at that point in time.  Safety's hard, safety is a really hard field to be in. It's very challenging. It is a cost center. You are not making revenue for the company. In fact, you're using all of that for equipment and training and all the things that people don't really like to do, and you have to be the passionate person at the table and you're the one who has to come to the table to drive that program.

And it's always helpful when you have, you know senior leadership behind you, but there are times where, you know, there's a cost for that, and if there's not enough money in the budget, then you're the first center to be cut and whether that's training or you're always trying to rejuggle this system. You're always trying to renew yourself and your program, year after year.  And you're always trying to be innovative and think outside the box because you know that at some point there's going to be cuts to that safety department.

So I think there's definitely some barriers there. They're not just for gender, but I think for safety as a whole.   I think one positive that's come out of COVID is that people understand the value for safety.  And safety is no longer a priority in the sense that, you know, priorities of the business.  It's a value, it's a core value of the business and I think, you know, that that's really a positive that's come out of it.

Yeah. I've experienced lots of different things where I too had to go back to school, do a Masters, continue to evolve myself, push myself to new levels. And I agree with Leanne that there are times where people make assumptions about what your abilities are, and I took a lot of lateral moves before eventually could move into different ranks. And I knew I had to do that in order to grow and so sometimes I think it's just really important to continue to push on for yourself, but recognize that you may have to take many lateral steps before you can move up to the next step on the ladder. And that's okay. I think it's important for professionals, in particular for women in safety to understand that that's okay. So those are some of the barriers I faced.

Host: Thank you so much Janet. That was really great to hear that there was commonality, unfortunately on some levels, but we're also covering inequalities, biases, stereotypes, things that have come up in your experiences in terms of leadership. Well, let's talk about hope and let's talk about some of the positive changes we’re seeing.  For instance, people of all genders around the world celebrate International Women's Day, that's coming up this year and we companies or organizations, they're putting an emphasis on gender, diversity, training, even mentorship programs for women in the field of occupational health and safety.  So over to Leanne. Can you tell us about some changes you've observed or in the field, how it's evolved over the years?

Lee-Anne:  Yeah. Now this is where the story is fantastic because things have changed.  And I think we have to recognize that. I'm no longer just the only person in the room that looks like me and it's encouraging, right? And I think as well, you know companies recognized companies not just companies but leaders as well. They recognize that you do need that diversity of thought that people from all different walks of life and all different genders, they do make a difference, and they bring different perspectives and I think companies are recognizing that.  You know for me to get to the level that I am today, you know, I didn't do this by myself, right and we have to recognize that there is a support system that enables you to move up, and gives you those opportunities even though you might be advocating for yourself. There are people also advocating for you and I think you know Janet you brought up a great point about just being passionate, and I think that is probably one of the key factors for why I've gotten to where I am today. I am very passionate about health and safety, but I'm also very passionate about being professional about it as well.

And helping people to understand the journey, right that it is just that, it's a journey like if you come into a workplace and you want to change the world overnight.  As we all know change doesn't usually happen overnight. And so I think, you know the fact that people are more willing to even hear what health and safety people have to say, Janet you brought up a great point, keep saying COVID-19 was like the rise of the safety professional!

And so many more companies and organizations do value and respect what health and safety people bring to the table.  And even though we might up front look like a cost center, I think they're recognizing more and more that you put a little in now, but you get a lot out at the other end when we're saving money on incidents, we're saving money on the fact that people are more competent. So they're delivering better quality work, but it's also safer as well.  You know, so it just gives me so much hope that there's always going to be a space for health and safety.  People within organizations and you know, I'm talking with Janet and Sue from the CCOHS and the important role that the CCOHS even plays with changing the culture around health and safety in Canada.

Like I've often said, you know, Canada we do a great job, but we could do better.  And so I think collectively if we continue to work on just sort of changing the culture around not just health and safety, but also making sure that our organizations really truly do celebrate that diversity of thought, I think tomorrow just looks better than it does today, which is really encouraging.

Host:  Thank you, Leanne. That was beyond hopeful, that's inspirational. Thank you. No, that was great because I'm going to move over to Janet and say so when we talk about these changes, this hopeful present and future, the rise of this health and safety professional because of Public Health and workplace health circumstances. Where do you see women coming in, has the industry changed because of women leaders like yourself and Leanne and others?

Janet: Absolutely. It's an entire movement. And I think it's fantastic. I mean if you were to look at safety 20 years ago, perhaps when Leanne and I were the only women in the room and you know, trying to get our voices heard in a technical male-driven dominant workspace, take a look at any safety, you know department now, in any given company and you'll find women just like us.  And you know, they're there for a reason, they're passionate about safety, they’re passionate about how safety is not just traditional safety anymore. It's about public health. It's about wellness. It's about, you know health, there's so many aspects that it's such a growing field that women have a passion for that and it encompasses a comprehensive safety program. So when you look, I know Leanne teaches and when I was teaching, when I go into that classroom, it's a 50-50 split sometimes 60/40.  There are women sitting in those chairs, they're wanting to learn, they're wanting to understand, they have a passion for that and they want to bring that diversity into a company.

You know, let's face it when you only have one cultural background and one gender in a room, the thought process typically is somewhat the same, right and safety is about thinking outside the box. It's about how can we do this better.  Like Leanne said, Canada's great on the national stage but we can be so much better. And so we need these people to come in. We need women. We need men.  We need, you know, people of color.  We need different backgrounds to come in and say, wait a minute, I think there's a different way we can do this and let me share that with you, and that's what drives passion and excellence for safety.

And I think it's an entire movement, and I'm really excited to be part of it. And I just think it's only going to grow as you know, institutions like Ryerson and you know, University of Fredericton other universities drive these programs for safety.  And then Masters with, you know leadership for safety components. You're going to see a very diverse workforce in occupational safety in the next five to ten years. It's already begun.

Lee-Anne:  Yeah, I think another thing just to piggyback on what Janet saying too. Is that if we look at just the opportunities, right in terms of health and safety and you brought up, you know health, occupational health, Public Health in the workplaces as well. We have to also recognize that there are gender differences to how we experience some of the workplace hazards, right? And so I think even having that diversity of thought and being able to say, well what about this and have we thought about maybe the impacts that might be different to men versus women? And you know, these are some of the things that I'm a Director for the Women in occupational health and safety society. These are some of the things that we advocate for as well, you know, like PPE, isn’t PPE for everyone?  And we know that traditionally, you know, lots of the studies have really been more male focused. So there's an opportunity for us to say, you know, well, how do we experience these things differently and maybe there is some slight differences that we need to think about in the workplace, like PPE is the simple example.

But you know, there's even that recognition coming to the table, you know, there's some really good work out of the Institute for Work and Health about some of the gender differences.  And how those gender differences play out in the workplace. So I think we have to be mindful of that as well, as even though, you know, we want things to be equitable, there could be some slight differences on the experiences that people do actually have.  That also helps, right when you just have that diversity of thought. 

Janet:  There's also that movement Lee-Anne for studying latent diseases and how it impacts women and men differently, which is a huge movement …..  as it's exciting to see the change in the field. That's for sure.

Host:  Amazing once again, and wow have we covered a lot in a short time and I thank you both, but we're not quite there yet.  As we wrap up, I'd like you both to leave our listening audience, our viewing audience with a few more words of wisdom. We want more because we're hearing such great things today. So what advice do you have for women in the field of occupational health and safety or any male-dominated field for that matter? I'll start with Leanne.

Lee-Anne:  My advice would just be is that there is a place for you, right, you are there for a reason and not to give up.  There are days that are difficult, regardless, you know, man women we have difficult days and my advice would really be as find those people that you can connect with and network with I think that's something that I didn't do enough of in my earlier days, and I'm realizing the strength of networking.  If there's mentorship opportunities that you can take and just learn from people who have come before you, and I that would be my biggest advice. I wish I had done more of that.

And then as well, volunteering.  I find that giving back and there are lots of opportunities in health and safety more so than before to be able to give back to the safety community. And in that, you meet people and can have conversations and find that support network. It's always great to be able to talk to people who understand what you're going through and what it's like, right, to be a safety professional. So that would be my biggest advice, is build your network and it doesn't only have to be within your own workplace.  Find those opportunities to connect with people who can support you along your way. And even if it's just peer-to-peer, it's great to be able to have people to be able to talk to you that understand what it's like.

Host:  Thank you, Lee-Anne. Awesome.  Janet your words of advice.

Janet:  Yeah, I mean, I think I echo what Lee-Anne says, but be confident in yourself. There is a space for you. And if you are a subject matter expert and you keep up to date with your craft and you have a passion for safety, be confident, you have an equal a spot at the table to provide your thoughts and opinions on different things.  And you know, it's important just to keep moving forward.  You know, you're going to have great things that that are executed really well and you're going to have some things that maybe aren't so great, and you have to learn from those mistakes and grow in order to move forward.  And I think a lot of it I was told once that, you know, it's 5% hard work and 95% execution and partially that comes into play.  But you know, I think it's really important just to believe in yourself and if you exude that confidence and you have that professionalism and the passion, there's a space for you and you'll go really far.

Host:  Thank you, Janet. Wonderful. So on that we're going to wrap up our conversation today with the Lee-Anne Lyon-Bartley and Janet Manila, two women leaders in the field of Occupational Health and Safety and two individuals who are paving the way for hopefully, many more women to come, and for the profession itself.  So, thank you again.  I'm glad that you could join us today.

Both:  Thanks for having us Sue, thank you!  And Happy International Women's Day.

Host:   Indeed, and so for more information on gender and the workplace, please visit ccohs.ca. Thanks again and until next time, please stay safe and well, bye for now.