Gender equality has become a big talking point over the last few years, so how close is the health and safety industry to achieving it?

The 21st century has seen women move into a position where they can have a positive impact on the economic, social and political landscape in the UK and elsewhere in the world. This means the world of work has changed dramatically compared to the last century.

Gender divisions in the workplace have been impacted by the shift in family dynamics,such as women delaying having children to focus on their careers or becoming breadwinners, and a greater recognition of legislation. They have become more economically and socially independent, representing 42 per cent of the UK workforce and 55 per cent of all graduates.

However, despite these advances, female representation is still lacking in positions of leadership. According to the Office for National Statistics, they only account for 22 per cent of MPs and peers, 20 per cent of university professors, 6.1 per cent of FTSE 100 executives and just three per cent of board members.

The gap in pay between men and women also still exists, with the latter earning 80p for every £1 earned by the former. This is despite the Equal Pay Act being in place for more than three decades in the UK.

Data from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reveals that young women who have earned vocational qualifications earn 15 per cent less than their male counterparts, while women with academic qualifications take home ten per cent less than their male peers.

Overall, it would seem that women are slowly gaining equality in the workplace, but still have a ways to go before they achieve level footing with their male colleagues.

How does the health and safety industry compare to other sectors?

Despite more than 14 million women working in Britain, the health and safety industry is still considered to be a ‘men only’ area, according to data from the TUC. This perception means that women are under-represented when it comes to working in the industry.

A new report from SHP – entitled ‘State of the Industry Survey 2016’ – reveals how the industry has changed for women, if at all. Of the 1,274 health and safety professionals polled, just 30 per cent of those were female. These figures correlate with those from the ‘Value of Health and Safety: 2012’ report from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, demonstrating a trend that shows the sector is still heavily dominated by men.

While this is a significant gap between genders, it is not the highest in the UK. For example, 91 per cent of the the engineering sector is made of men, while they also account for 83 per cent of the technology industry.

The sectors that are dominated by women often involve high levels of care or having excellent people skills. More than 90 per cent of the nursing industry is made up of women, while they also make up 81 per cent of primary school teachers. More than two thirds (69.3 per cent) of human resources managers, 71.2 per cent of counsellors and 80.8 per cent of social workers are female.

Dr Vicki Belt, assistant director of UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), believes that occupational segregation is an ongoing issue. She explained: “Women are under-represented in a range of sectors and occupations that offer higher paying roles – for example fewer than ten per cent of British engineers are female.

”There is clearly more that could be done by employers, education providers and careers advisers to create more and better opportunities for women and tackle patterns of occupational segregation.”

Does the pay gap exist in the health and safety industry?

According to research undertaken by UKCES, women are paid less than men in 90 per cent of industries in Britain – and the health and safety sector is by no means an exception. SHP’s survey reveals that salaries taken home by women were as much as £10,000 less than the overall UK average of £48,468.19, whereas men are paid £4,000 more than the average.

This means that women working in this sector are paid £38,828.54, while men in the same roles are paid £52,800.04. These figures demonstrate that the pay gap continues to be an issue in the sector and more needs to be done to address the problem head on to achieve true equality.

However, the research from UKCES – titled ‘Opportunities and Outcomes in Education and Work: Gender Effects’ – reveals that the health and safety industry isn’t the worst offender when it comes to paying men and women equally. Overall, women are paid around 19 per cent less than their male counterparts, but this rises to as much as 40 per cent in the financial and insurance sectors.

Significant pay gaps also exist in the energy, scientific and technology sectors – areas where women are “chronically under-represented”, according to UKCES. This is despite female students outperforming their male counterparts at all levels of education, making them more likely to be highly-skilled and qualified.

Commenting on the study, Dr Belt said: “This research brings home the bleak reality of gender inequality at work in the UK. In spite of women’s real achievements in education, the gender pay gap stubbornly remains.”

How does male and female experience compare in the health and safety industry?

The survey from SHP revealed that the average industry experience for someone in health and safety was around 15 years, with men working slightly longer at 16 years and women less at 13 years.

When analysing this data further, they discovered that women entered the industry later in life compared to their male peers, as they were most likely to have another career first. Before making the transition to health and safety, women were more likely to have jobs in management, administration, and research and development.

Past careers for men included construction, the military/armed forces, police and security, which bolsters the idea that some work is seen as more masculine and some is perceived to be more feminine.

The survey data from SHP suggests that more needs to be done by employers to attract women to the health and safety industry before they settle on another career path, while the government needs to ramp up its efforts to do away with occupational segregation.