Support Systems
Five Women in OEHS Reflect on Their Successes
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On March 8, individuals and organizations around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day. The 2023 theme is “Embrace Equity,” which the IWD website defines as “creating a fair and equal world.” As the website notes, “Forging gender equity isn’t limited to women solely fighting the good fight. Allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women.”
To explore ideas of equity, I asked five women in various stages of their careers as occupational and environmental health and safety professionals to reflect on what they’ve experienced and who their allies have been to date. Common themes in these conversations were the importance of having mentors early in their careers, developing strong networks, and establishing credibility with stakeholders and peers. Many of their mentors were supervisors who took an interest in their professional development. Other mentors were college professors; colleagues they had met at meetings of professional organizations, such as those held by AIHA local sections and volunteer groups and by chapters of the American Society of Safety Professionals; and instructors of professional development courses. The women also shared practical advice that other OEHS professionals, no matter their gender or career stage, can use to achieve greater professional and personal fulfillment.
CARING FOR OTHERS Belinda Marshall, ASP, has four years’ experience in allied health science. She found her first ally in her father, who obtained a degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration. His career in safety inspired her to consider healthcare and other fields that involved caring for others. She considered public health but found her calling in industrial hygiene at the suggestion of her older sister.
Robert Phalen, PhD, CIH, FAIHA, encouraged Belinda to join AIHA and go to graduate school. She is now pursuing a Master of Science in occupational health and safety at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Belinda’s advice to others is to network to find your allies. “Tap into mentors and that supportive environment, and also network with classmates,” she recommends. She points to LinkedIn as another terrific place for networking.
Belinda is a big fan of outreach efforts that target a young audience in an engaging way. Her local section, like many others, has representatives who go to science fairs to recognize projects in industrial hygiene and public health. She’s seen the positive influence of supporting women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs come to fruition in her 13-year-old niece, who attended a NASA STEM program.
Currently secretary for the AIHA Gulf Coast Local Section and a member of the AIHA Women in Industrial Hygiene Committee, Belinda was president of the ASSP Student College of the Mainland chapter until her graduation in May 2022. She revived this chapter after it had been inactive for two years and was honored as the chapter’s Student Member of the Year in 2022.
A PASSION FOR LEARNING LaTonya Edwards, CIH, CSP, also found her first ally in her father, who was a physician’s assistant in occupational health and spurred her interest in the health field. While finishing her Bachelor of Science in biology with a pre-medicine emphasis at Xavier University of Louisiana, she participated in a dual enrollment program in public health and industrial hygiene established through a partnership with Tulane University. Encouraged by Faye Grimsley of the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, LaTonya started on her Master of Science in public health while she was a senior and finished the graduate degree in a year. LaTonya recalls that “Dr. Grimsley served as a mentor as someone who looked like me (African American), guided me through IH, and showed it was achievable.”
During an internship when she was in graduate school, LaTonya had the good fortune of meeting Billy Bullock, CIH, CSP, ScD. Impressed with LaTonya’s intelligence and drive, Bullock helped her get a temporary posting in Europe, which expanded her view of the IH field on the international level.
LaTonya’s first job after graduate school was with a large contractor for NASA. Later, when she went to work for Bullock, she and her husband—the most important ally in her life—moved from Louisiana to Florida with their two young children. She credits Bullock with teaching her how to hone her communication skills and serving as an example of how to support family life and pursue work-life balance. Bullock also advocates for diverse mentor/mentee networks that include both men and women.
LaTonya has used her membership in AIHA to build her professional network, starting in college with the AIHA Deep South Local Section. Today, she is a member of the Florida Local Section and the Women in Industrial Hygiene Committee. She is also an AIHA brand ambassador for the transportation and railroad industry (thanks in part to another invitation from Bullock).
Based on what LaTonya has learned so far in her career, she recommends that young professionals foster a passion for learning, maintain a desire to help others, develop strong networks, be willing to ask for help, and learn how to make people feel at ease when investigating health and safety issues and performing audits.
APPRECIATION FOR CULTURAL DIVERSITY Eltaneice Bolden, CIH, CHMM, has 30 years’ experience in EHS and currently serves as a global IH manager for an international manufacturing company. Her mentors have included the corporate ergonomics lead. Eltaneice notes, “I’ve always had leaders who have supported me in crucial discussions, but I have to do my homework.” She manages eleven direct reports and two indirect reports as well as contract support. She has also mentored people in her company who aren’t in her work group.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts in natural science at Johns Hopkins and a Master of Science in occupational and environmental health at Wayne State University, Eltaneice felt she needed to better understand the manufacturing environment, so she earned a Master of Science in manufacturing operations from Kettering University. Working for an international company with manufacturing plants in different countries requires an appreciation for the cultures in which her direct reports operate. She explains that serving as the site IH for a year helped her “better understand what I was asking that person to do within the culture of that specific location.”
Keeping up with new developments in both processes and products is necessary for success as an OEHS professional in the manufacturing industry, Eltaneice says. Her advice for others is to maintain self-confidence even when their efforts don’t go as planned. “All people, not just women, second-guess themselves,” Eltaneice says. “I have a direct report who is excellent at what she does, and I remind her of this every time we have a performance review, but she still suffers from lack of confidence in her abilities.”
Eltaneice has built networks through AIHA by serving as the current chair of the Leadership and Management Committee and as a member of the International Affairs Committee, the Women in Industrial Hygiene Committee, and the Government Relations Committee. She has also served on the Michigan Industrial Hygiene Society board of directors.
PERFECTLY IMPERFECT Brandi Kissel, CIH, CSP, is a manager of IH and wellness. Her responsibilities include psychosocial safety and are rooted in the NIOSH Total Worker Health program, which promotes a holistic approach to worker well-being. She credits her parents with inspiring her choice of career. Her mother, a nurse, sustained an injury while lifting a patient and went into disability. “When she returned to work, she felt bullied by coworkers because she couldn’t do everything the younger workers did,” Brandi explains. Her father is a volunteer firefighter. “I’ve seen the evolution of firefighting science and the need for post-fatality debriefings,” she says. “I saw the impact of their work experience on their home life.”
After earning a Bachelor of Arts in biology, Brandi tried out several other jobs on her way to becoming an OEHS professional. The ally who helped her find IH as her calling was a consultant who visited the water treatment facility where Brandi was working as a laboratory technician. “The consultant conducted assessments and did training,” Brandi says. “It turns out she was an industrial hygienist, and it just ‘clicked.’ I knew then that was what I wanted to do. I did a lot of research and applied for jobs, and eventually landed my first IH job.”
Brandi advises OEHS professionals to recognize that “personal development is just as important as professional development,” she says. “Remember that you can be perfectly imperfect and do an amazing job.”
Within AIHA, Brandi has contributed to numerous volunteer groups, including the Student and Early Career Professionals Committee, the Mentoring and Professional Development Committee, and the Career and Employment Services Committee. She has also been a member of the Central New York, Connecticut River Valley, and Florida local sections. In 2022 Brandi attended the Future Leaders Institute, which helped her develop an excellent peer network.
Brandi’s interest in finding mentors stems from not having good mentors early in her career. She recommends that young OEHS professionals find mentors who are not their supervisor, since part of the reason for having a mentor is to ask for advice about your supervisor. She also believes in having sponsors in addition to mentors. A mentor offers advice and answers questions, while a sponsor helps advance another person’s career.
Asked to share a memorable episode from her work, Brandi describes her experience with a welder at a site in West Virginia. Her task was to sample welding fume for hexavalent chromium while a boiler superheater was being repaired. The job required the welder to work in a restricted area, and he wasn’t happy about having to wear two pumps. Brandi, who had previously qualified as a welder at a local community college, won him over by getting into the superheater with him and doing the weld while wearing the pumps and a pink welding hood she had obtained from the community college. The job was a mirror weld, which means it was performed using a mirror held under the seam. The welder and Brandi both did 37 welds. Non-destructive testing showed that Brandi had two failures while the welder had twelve. The next day, the welder’s wife made Brandi a cake with a pink hood on it. From then on, when Brandi had to collect a personal sample, this welder was the first to sign up.
Years later, after his retirement, Brandi learned that she had made an even bigger impression on him than she realized. He told Brandi that when she informed him of his standard threshold shift, she had inspired him to start wearing his hearing protection. As a result, he didn’t lose any more hearing, and he didn’t have to wear hearing aids in retirement.
LEGACY OF HAPPINESS “Learning how to listen well is an art, and I am still a student of that,” says Kathryn Makos, CIH. Reflecting on her 45-year career, Kathy notes the importance of developing a strong bond with managers. “I took a lot of time to cultivate trusting professional relationships with my supervisors—and they were of all genders—as they are the first stop for career critique and development opportunities,” she says.
This experience informs her advice for young OEHS professionals. “Get to know your supervisor, and make sure they understand your work ethic and style,” Kathy says. “Supervisors generally hate surprises, so establish that you are reliable and consistent in your work. Keep them notified regularly of any problems or questions you have, never lie, and never hide for fear they will penalize you. Remember, supervisors need you to do well so that they do well. Don’t wait till stress breaks you.
“Believe in your work. But supervisors can’t read your mind. You can’t get what you don’t ask for. So read the room for the right time to ask for training, or more help in some area, or even that raise.”
An advocate of mentoring, Kathy notes that it “gives us valuable opportunities to pass along the lessons we’ve learned and hopefully prevent OEHS professionals who are just starting out from making the same mistakes that we may have made when we were less experienced.”
Kathy has a Master of Public Health from the University of Illinois Chicago. Her service to AIHA includes being an officer and member of several volunteer groups, including the Potomac Local Section. After her retirement in 2013, she worked with the executive director of the American Institute for Conservation to craft a proposal to AIHA leadership for creating a professional partnership to address the risk management needs of cultural heritage employers and workers. That led to the creation of the AIHA Museum and Cultural Heritage Industry Working Group.
Kathy’s most important ally is her husband, Paul Wambach, CIH, who is also an AIHA member.
“Looking back on a long and satisfying career, my advice to early- to mid-career professionals, especially women in this field, is that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Kathy says. “It is critical to continually recalibrate your work-life balance to meet the demands at each stage of your life. We talk a lot about creating a legacy of work accomplishments, but we also must invest our heart and mind in our legacy of happiness built from connections with friends, family, and community.”
CELIA A. BOOTH, CIH, CSP, ARM, is a consultant, the past chair of AIHA’s Leadership and Management Committee, and the principal of CAB Enterprises LLC.
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