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  • Writer's picture Amy Kemmett

Breaking Barriers: Celebrating Women Leaders in Health and Safety Management on International Women's Day 2024

In this article, Wheatway Solutions' SHEQ manager, Amy Kemmett, reflects on the trailblazing role women have played within the health & safety and manufacturing industries. She also looks at the steps Wheatway has taken to ensure equality within its workforce.

International Women's Day

As International Women’s Day approaches, it prompts reflection on my part, as I think of the many women who have come before me and laid the groundwork for me to be here now, doing this job that I love. Every woman from the suffragettes, who fought for our votes, to those women who are still blazing a path to ensure gender equality in workplaces. I think of them all and I am grateful for their existence and their drive to fight for the rights that I enjoy today.

This begs the question of the history of women in health and safety, societally we think of health and safety as a relatively ‘new industry’ when in fact it has its roots in the Poor Laws, introduced in the 1600s, and later the factory inspector role being implemented in the early 1800s and with the Safety: The Factory Act, 1844.

May Abraham and Mary Paterson became the first women to be factory inspectors in 1883, with specific onus to protect women in factory and industrial settings.  Women workers were encouraged to reach out to these ‘Lady Inspectors’, with references being made to them at the dispatch box.

Black and white photograph Mary Paterson
Mary Paterson

Mary Paterson was the very definition of a trailblazer, with many firsts being attributed to her. She was one of the first women to receive formal higher education at Queen Margret College, although she was not awarded an official degree – women couldn’t back then, before her appointment in 1893. She became the first woman to prosecute in a Scottish court, and she and her successors laid the groundwork for not only women in OSH but also the legal profession.

As part of this reflection, I am also immensely grateful to a man (shocking I know!), with a brilliant logical mind who has empowered not only me but also other amazing women.  This man has built a company on the basis of hiring the best person for the job, seeing past gender and putting superior candidates in leadership positions.

At Wheatway, we pride ourselves on being innovators, this is true for all areas of the business, not just the products we design and manufacture, but also the organisational structure, working practices and value of the work-life balance. 

This has resulted in a dramatic bucking of the trend; with 50% of leadership positions being currently occupied by women (in my industry the norm is around 25%, BritSafe, 2023), putting Wheatway Solutions up there with the top ten best performing FTSE 350 Companies (FTSE Women Leaders Review, 2024) in terms of the representation of women in leadership.

Bar chart comparing the percentage of women in leadership positions with the national average

There is a great empowerment that comes from being surrounded by women in this way, having your work recognised and your professional development supported, being surrounded by impressive, accomplished, intelligent women only makes me want to strive to do and be more professionally.

Personally, I have never been in a Company where this has been the case, and as a result, I am achieving things I never thought possible in my career.

This International Women’s Day, I am proud of who I am, who my workplace celebrates me to be, and the allies who are supporting and continuing to pave the way for women everywhere.

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