Forging the way for women in the OHS industry

The Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society offers mentorship, networking opportunities, and resources to support women who work in the OHS industry. 

Photo of smiling dark-haired young woman with another woman's hand on her shoulder

Photo credit: iStock.com/Courtney Hale

It all started in Calgary with a conversation about how to help women advance their careers in health and safety.

“We found that a lot of our female safety colleagues were not receiving mentorship and sponsorship within organizations,” says Stephanie Benay, one of 11 founding members of the Women in Occupational Health & Safety Society (WOHSS). “We noticed how many women we were losing in the industry.”

After 25 years in the OHS industry, Stephanie knows what it’s like to be a woman working in a mostly male environment. She has worked in the field on many worksites in different industries including aviation, oil and gas, forestry, and more. Today, Stephanie is in a senior executive position as Director of Safety Systems and Assurance at BC Hydro.

She describes what it’s like to be “the safety person” showing up at a worksite.

“You go to sites and work in industries where you’re not necessarily technically trained in the same capacity as others there. The assumption is that because you haven’t done the work yourself, you couldn’t possibly know anything about anything,” says Stephanie. “It happens more often to women than to our male safety colleagues.”

“When you’re a young, female professional and you’re dealing with not being accepted, respected, listened to, or understood in the field, it’s a challenge, and often people will opt out.”

Mentorship from people who have “been there, done that”

Since its grassroots beginning in 2017, WOHSS has gained momentum across Canada. In 2020, WOHSS representatives held a leadership panel at the inaugural Women in Safety conference, sponsored by Canadian Occupational Safety magazine. Panelists raised questions and opened the floor for participants to talk about topics such as:

  • How do you deal with personal safety issues and aggression toward women in the workplace?
  • How do you deal with biases that you are subject to, whether it be from men or women?
  • How can you build support in your organization?

Stephanie says the WOHSS mentorship program has also been a huge success. It has both male and female mentors, which she believes is really valuable.

“We provide mentors who have been there, done that,” she says. “These are people who say, ‘Yes, we see your value. We support you, and we’re here for you.’”

For more about WOHSS and how it got started, see Women’s group aiming to boost gender representation in safety profession from Canadian Occupational Safety magazine.

Thank you to Stephanie for talking with me about this important work in support of women.

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