Women in Health & Safety – Angelina Sooren

March 8, 2018

To mark International Women’s Day, this week’s blog is written by Angelina Sooren, Director of Churchill’s HSEQ division. She discusses how she came to work at Churchill and the importance of getting more women into the sector.

To say that women in the workplace is a hot topic right now would be an understatement. Every day, the media is peppered with stories of inequality in the workplace – whether it’s due to parity of incomes or maternity discrimination.

The common view to solving this issue is a simple one. Proportional representation in the workplace with more women in senior positions making executive business decisions. This is important across the entire corporate landscape, however it is of particular relevance in industries where women are still under-represented. It is certainly true in facilities management, and so too in health & safety.

As it stands, only 30 per cent of employees in the H&S sector are women. Why? Speculatively, the industry is perhaps perceived as a bit ‘grey’ – lots of red tape, legislation and best practice policies that are more befitting to men in suits. In response to this, the industry has conducted various surveys and reports to ascertain whether this really is the case. Recently, one such survey managed by Safety & Health Practitioner (SHP) confirmed this, as of the 1,274 H&S professionals polled, just 30 per cent of those were female. The argument is that women tend to gravitate towards positions that require excellent people skills and a high-levels of care, such as teaching for example . However, I’d argue that these skills are in fact integral to my day-to-day job in health and safety. My role is not only vital to the welfare and ongoing security of Churchill employees, it requires influence and persuasion so as to build long-lasting relationships with our clients and problem-solving is at its core – as an HESQ professional, I’m trained to look to the root of an issue and find a solution.

When I joined Churchill in 2011 I was brought on board with the purpose of building a dedicated HSEQ team and gaining the relevant accreditations for the company. We’re now a team of ten – including regional advisors and office support – covering all regions, supporting eight divisional work streams and responsible for the safety of upwards of 12,000 people. As Director of the division, I follow the ‘practice what you preach’ mantra and I make a point of prioritising dedicating time to my own personal development – having recently completed my IRATA Level One qualification, for example. And although I would ideally like to hire more women onto the HSEQ team, the difficulty is finding women with the necessary practical experience under their belts.

Evidently as an industry we need to mix things up and raise the profile of female HSEQ specialists. Last year, I was attending the Safety & Health Expo and came across the SHP Women in Health and Safety network, created solely for this purpose. Today, I serve on the committee and I’m actively involved in raising awareness via various events across the country. My first suggestion when I joined the committee was to implement a ‘speed mentoring’ element to our events – with the view to match-making mentors with those relatively new to the industry. First implemented at the Christmas networking party last year, the event was free to attend and open to all, and I’m encouraging my peers (both male and female) to not only attend but also follow the committee. As such, I proactively reach out to parties that I know will have a vested interest in the project. I’m also planning on hosting a few events this year myself, in the hope that we continue to expand the Women in Health and Safety network. I’d really recommend following SHP online to be kept up to date on Women in Safety updates too https://www.shponline.co.uk/women-in-health-and-safety/ 

In terms of gender equality Churchill certainly errs on the positive side of the spectrum, and the company’s ethos of ‘everyone counts’ fosters a work culture that’s inclusive of all.  I’m not alone in being a female Director here,  in fact, all central support Directors are women.  Having come from humble beginnings, and still being privately-owned, Churchill has retained a grass-roots feel and an overarching sense of a friendly company that champions all its staff.

We’re currently on the lookout for some fresh talent to join the HSEQ team and further expand our offerings to the Group. Whether you’re male or female, please feel free to get in contact if you’d like to find out more.