A Message from Anne Gardner-Aston, Chair of OneWISH

‘Thought leadership’ is one of those phrases that has been bandied about for years, but I confess I’ve never really stopped to think what it actually means. I’ve certainly never considered myself to be a thought leader, but looking at the definition… ‘someone who demonstrates they have expertise in a particular field or topic through the expression of ideas’ …I guess it’s something I do quite regularly, both in my day job and as a volunteer – well, I treat plenty of people to my opinion (or my ‘expression of ideas’) on a regular basis so that probably amounts to the same thing! But it did get me pondering how we can encourage and enable more women to be OSH thought leaders. What does it take to become recognised as a thought leader and what channels do we need to unblock to make this happen?

I am pretty sure that visibility has something to do with women’s relative lack of opportunities in this area. Until relatively recently, OSH was a predominantly male profession; magazine articles and ‘thought pieces’ were largely written by men and conferences often only had a couple of women in the speaker line-up, often talking on the subject of wellbeing. There is no doubt that this has improved of late, ratios are better, and the profession has finally realised that women have something to say, not least about how they impact, and are impacted by, the world of work throughout their careers. But we still rely heavily on our female trailblazers, amazing though they are.

I think we need to do more to ensure that women in the profession find their voice and that these new voices are recognised and amplified. Here at OneWISH, one of our core values is the celebration of under-represented voices: women with expertise in their particular field or topic, who want to express their ideas but who don’t have the platform – in other words, tomorrow’s female thought leaders. We are opening up our congresses and events to those women who have had their hands up for ages but who have not been asked to speak.

So my challenge to you is this: who do you know that has something to shout about? How can you encourage them on their journey towards being a recognised thought leader? And what can we do as a profession to make this happen?


If you would like to write a column to start a conversation, please email hello@onewishcoalition.org.uk

'How Can We Truly Ensure Diversity In Our Conferences' by Tamara Parris from Safeopedia

Over the past few years, l have had the privilege of being invited to consult, coordinate and host events, as well as being asked to speak about and be on panels that are discussing Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in our workplaces. During our group discussion, I am known best for bringing to the conversations the importance of taking intentional actions to ensure those from diverse communities are included and have fair representation in our events as I believe being intentional is truly our only means to making the changes we are striving to achieve.

Real change will only be possible when we each take steps to expand our own circle of connections, again, in intentional ways. It is in the hands of our generation to seriously challenge known historical beliefs, for example; those who are the most confident, popular or entertaining are the most competent people to share knowledge TO our communities. By breaking this bias, we can bring in individuals who hold different perspectives and life experiences than ourselves. Adding diversity in our speakers is what will bring richer and more robust conversations into our events. It is also what will encourage a broader attendance from more diverse and underrepresented communities. I believe people will feel more welcome seeing those from their own communities included as speakers in the events. Especially in highly coveted spots, such as Opening and Closing Keynote Speakers!

We need to deconstruct the known systematic barriers that hold back people from these communities (especially) from being recognised as industry experts and influencers. A large piece of this is the privileged constantly inviting the privileged to be the dominant group speaking at events.

It is conference organisers who hold the power to elevate speakers of under-represented groups into these public spaces, by including them so they can access these opportunities. After all, these events are the ‘Stage Pass’ to the global platform so individuals can also showcase their expertise. As a professional facilitator; it is the opportunities I have been provided that have helped me hone and develop my skills. My own professional development has been directly impacted by the amount of opportunities others have provided. The more opportunities provided, the better skilled we become.

It’s our time to #breakthebias that experts must have a senior level title, be an author or a well known influencer to fit the speaking criteria. #Breakthebias, that the “best” in a category, is the default “Popular” or “Well-Known” speaker. These are simply our reality because they have been reinforced by long-held power dynamics in society.  We can source speakers outside of our traditional networks easily now through our online tools and networks. So what it really boils down to is, will we take the time and put in the effort to look for those who move in different circles, have different experiences and points of view than our own. We know that if we already have three speakers with consulting backgrounds, there is value in bringing in someone with direct, worksite experience on the issue as they will bring different perspectives, experiences and approaches. So like Nike says “just do it!”

We understand how to set our ‘audacious’ goals (as my friend Jamie says), now we need to move into quantifying these goals we would like to achieve. For example; ensuring we have X% queer women, X% women of color, X% Asian & Latinx and X% transgender and gender non-conforming. I hear and understand the argument that it shouldn’t matter what an individual’s demographic background is, it should be based on merit. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to opportunities, succession pools or privileged social circles

Only once we do the ‘connecting’ work, can we make any inroads to increasing the invitations to individuals of diversity to speak at our events and conferences. Have them join to share their expertise in their own true professional area!  Maybe on fall protection, risk management or Creating Safety Policies. These individuals are an untapped wealth of knowledge, to be candid we all are missing out when they are not invited to share their safety insights and knowledge.

We know it is only at the conversation tables influencers have a voice to sway others opinions, so invite them! Reflect on who sits on your event committees.  If they are not sitting at our tables, then they can not share their knowledge, resources, networks, talent, personal experiences, nor have the chance to amplify their thought leadership, ideas and diverse communities like others have the opportunity to do.

We need to look at “Life Chances, and Life Opportunities”; using the chances we are presented through life as opportunities to share with others to help them grow as well.

Join us to #breakthebias; as we strive to create opportunities and intentionally network with individuals of diverse backgrounds to open the door so everyone feels welcome to share and speak at our events.

'Embracing Positive Change Through Agile Working' by Katy Jenner from Willmott Dixon

Imagine having control over your location of work, the hours you work, with the focus being on your output, rather than your presenteeism. Imagine being able to communicate effectively and efficiently with colleagues, with the aid of technology, without the need to be in the office all the time. Imagine if there were reductions is cost for business, improved mental health, less pollution arising from reduced commuting, along with improved work-life balance leading to a clear productivity increase. Agile working is something that Willmott Dixon (one of the UK’s largest privately-owned contracting and interior fit-out groups) was trialling on construction sites prior to COVID-19. The pandemic’s arrival then accelerated this change beyond all imagination! With the construction sector remaining operational to sustain the British economy throughout the pandemic, suddenly people not required on site were encouraged to work from home. At this pivotal moment, agile working provided the opportunity for business to continue and was quickly embraced. “Bringing people, processes, connectivity & technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate & effective way to carry out a particular task”

What does agile working mean to me? As a H&S professional in the construction sector and a mum to a young son, agile working provides the autonomy to allow me to achieve a work life balance that means I remain productive in what I do for Willmott Dixon. I’m able to take my son to childcare and collect him, I don’t need to spend hours in the car commuting every day; importantly I can also communicate just as efficiently with colleagues and the external business world from my home office. Agile working has really helped me feel valued, as I don’t feel judged for no longer being present in an office on a full-time basis, but instead the focus being on the work that I am able to produce, which has increased due to being able to prioritise my needs.

As an industry, construction has been associated with long working hours, which isn’t necessarily attractive to the next generation or anyone looking for a career change when considering their career choices, nor will it improve gender diversity. Willmott Dixon want all of their people to enjoy a career of a lifetime and achieving a sustainable work-life balance is key to this. Whilst also encouraging their supply chain partners, who are seen as ambassadors to the business, to adopt similar practices to achieve a more inclusive environment that appeals and attracts a much broader range of people. Embracing a more agile approach to working has been met with tremendous positivity across Willmott Dixon. We all need to keep doing our bit to champion agile working and sharing the associated benefits as a result. Whilst it may not suit every individual or even every sector, those that are able to work in an agile way should be given the autonomy to do just that.