Case studies and research on gender in workplace safety

Engineering Student Marking BlueprintsSeveral SafetyAtWorkBlog articles recently have had record readership statistics. One of particular note concerned gender issues in the workplace.  On 9 June 2013, Marie-Claire Ross wrote about her experiences with gender bias in the workplace and, in particular, its existence in the safety profession.

This reminded me of two documents I recently read about gender and safety. The April 2013 edition of the Australian Journal of Emergency Management (AJOEM)devoted an entire edition of the magazine to gender issues.This is a useful counterpoint to the SafetyAtWorkBlog article as emergency management remains a male-dominated culture.

This edition of AJOEM includes the following snippets.

While investigating communications, Dr Christine Owen’s research revealed

“…cultural challenges to team communication and specifically a masculinist culture (i.e. acting with high confidence and bravado).” (page 3)

“The findings suggest that there are particular cultural practices associated with masculinity that work to shut down communication and contribute to the marginalisation of women’s voices.”

The AJOEM edition provides good case studies that should have us reassessing our own safety communications and conduct. A research report by Denise Salin of Finland and Helge Hoel of Manchester has the potential to be more challenging however.  Their article called “Workplace Bullying as a Gendered Phenomenon” (Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol 28 No 3, 2013 PP. 235-251) has implications for the management of workplace bullying and provides an extra dimension to implementing any code of practice for workplace bullying.  Salin and Hoel found that

“…bullying is gendered rather than gender-neutral [and that this] has implications above all for the way managers, organisational representatives and policy-makers should address and prevent workplace bullying.”

The recently released draft code of practice on workplace bullying from Safe Work Australia only mentions gender in its discussion of discrimination and harassment, elements that it says are not workplace bullying although they may occur at the same time. Salin and Hoel quote research that focuses on a more contemporary perspective on gender

“…as a social category that permeates social interaction and therefore also organisational life: organisational structures, practices and everyday interactions in organisational settings.”

This clearly has more relevance in examining workplace bullying than the more established perspective as gender almost equating to “biological sex”.  The social category perspective still allows for the study of bullying with relation to social power but allows for discussion on socialisation of men and women and social identity theory. The researchers state in their conclusion that

“We believe that acknowledging the gender aspects and being aware of them when designing prevention and intervention mechanisms will benefit both men and women.”

Workplace bullying is not an easy hazard to prevent or manage but being conscious of gender in our approach to the hazard may provide a more effective investigation.  For businesses that are just starting out, being aware of gender as an underlying element to how we communicate about workplace safety may establish a more sustainable base for a safety culture.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

One thought on “Case studies and research on gender in workplace safety”

  1. Marie-Claire has written:

    \”Thanks, Kevin for bringing awareness to this matter. It\’s a topic that no-one likes talking about, but it\’s vital to great safety performance.\”

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