The Data On DEI
Numbers Reveal the Workplace Experiences of Women and Minority Groups
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Imagine the following: a young woman, as she provided safety support for a large construction project, was told by her client that she couldn’t leave the trailer where she worked because it “wasn’t safe” for her to do so alone. When she volunteered to take on a project, the client told her that she would be “too much of a distraction” for workers at the construction site. Five years later, this woman had progressed to a leadership role. She was one of only two women directors in her organization. Among her immediate colleagues, she was not only the sole woman but the youngest employee by at least five years. Although she had the support of her organization’s leadership, a colleague began to act differently toward her. He made passive-aggressive comments about her work and her approach to her job. He tried to provoke others to question the validity of her viewpoint or the importance of her contributions. He even emailed one of her superiors, telling them that her advice and guidance was wrong, even though she had spoken with the supervisor and obtained their approval. When this woman was more than 15 years into her career, she joined a team on which, again, she was the only woman. This time, her colleagues asked her for her thoughts and opinions and selected her to participate in conversations that impacted the future of the team. The company thrived and retained business because of the positive and successful relationships she had forged with clients. She was respected and rewarded for her performance, and her colleagues looked to her for help and advice. This woman’s story—or part of it, at least—is my own. And I’m certain that if you ask other women colleagues, they’ll tell you very similar stories. The occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) profession remains a male-dominated field, although significant progress has been made in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Since March is Women’s History Month in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, it’s even more relevant to discuss the treatment of women in OEHS. But unfortunately, there is still a long way to go before diversity, equity, and inclusion won’t be goals to be met but achievements to celebrate. The Omaha, Nebraska-based organization Inclusive Communities defines diversity as acknowledging that differences between individuals exist, embracing difference rather than rejecting it, and recognizing that not only do all people look different, but they think and feel differently too. Equity can be confused with equality. While equality strives to put everyone at the same level, equity gives everyone the tools, resources, or opportunities they need to reach their goals. Finally, for a workplace to be inclusive, its culture must recognize all employee groups represented in the organization and make resources available that allow all employees to be supported, valued, respected, and given all possible opportunities for engagement. DISPARITIES IN REPRESENTATION AND PAY To put it simply, the U.S. has a gender and race “gap.” According to the latest population survey from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 161,037,000 people aged 16 or older working in the country. Of the approximately 370,000 people working in OEHS, about 21 percent are women. BLS finds that while approximately 79 percent of the employees in the industry are white, only 9 percent are Black or African American, a proportion that is 27 percent lower than the U.S. average. Only 13 percent of the employees in the industry are Hispanic or Latino, a proportion that is 30 percent lower than the U.S. average. Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2023 report, released last year, provides insights into how women are represented and treated in the corporate America workforce. Their research shows that the number of women compared to men who work in entry-level positions is almost equal, with men making up 52 percent of this demographic and women 48 percent. These numbers diverge as workers move up the career pipeline—at the senior manager or director level, 64 percent of positions are filled by men and only 36 percent by women. At the C-suite level, women fill only 28 percent of positions. McKinsey’s report also found differences between the representation of white workers and workers of color. The number of women of color in the corporate workforce is shockingly low—they fill only 18 percent of entry-level positions and only 6 percent in the C-suite. Representation for men of color is little better, as this demographic also fills 18 percent of positions at entry level and only 15 percent in the C-suite. The job data site Zippia estimates professional demographics based on a database of profiles. Zippia reports that men comprise 95.7 percent of profiles belonging to people with “certified industrial hygienist” as their job title. (Note that Zippia’s statistics are not intended to reflect the demographics of professionals with the CIH credential.) The site also estimates that men represent 78 percent of profiles that list users’ profession as “environmental health and safety manager.” Only 12 percent of profiles with the title “environmental health and safety manager” and 10.8 percent with “certified industrial hygienist” listed Hispanic or Latino users, and only 4.9 percent of profiles with “environmental health and safety manager” and 6.5 percent with “certified industrial hygienist” belonged to Black or African American users, Zippia estimates. Workplace equity is not about the rise of one group at the cost of another, it’s about acknowledging the fact that we need truly representative thought and perspectives in our organizational leadership. To achieve that, all employees must have a seat at the table.
Workplace equity is not about the rise of one group at the cost of another, it’s about acknowledging the fact that we need truly representative thought and perspectives in our organizational leadership.
In addition to the gap in demographic representation, there is another gap between the average salaries and wages paid to employees of different genders, races, and ethnicities. The Pew Research Center’s findings on the gender pay gap in the U.S., when broken down by race and ethnicity, reveal a troubling truth: for every dollar made by white men, white women make 83 cents, Black women make 70 cents, and Hispanic women make only 65 cents. The Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society states in its 2023 report on gender equity states that in the U.S., there is a 16.9 percent gap in salaries between men and women, with men earning more than women.
Women with “certified industrial hygienist” listed as their job role earn 91 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same role, Zippia estimates. Women who identify their role as “environmental health and safety manager” earn 97 cents for every dollar earned by men. The most recent salary survey from the National Safety Council and the Board of Certified Safety Professionals shows a 6.5 percent gap in salaries between men and women. This data raises a significant question: why is there a gap at all? If men and women both do the same work at the same level, why is the pay different? The answer is that it shouldn’t be.
THE COSTS OF INEQUITY How do employees feel when they are at work? Are they respected, heard, and appreciated?
A 2022 report from Culture Amp indicates that not all employee demographic groups feel equally supported by their organizations. Culture Amp’s data indicates women feel less supported in both their workload and work-life balance. Among employees who identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, the data shows that only 61 percent feel there is open and honest two-way communication. They are 14 percent less likely than employees outside the LGBTQ+ community to see themselves working at the same company in two years, and 52 percent say they think about looking for jobs at different companies.
Psychological safety encompasses the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated at work for voicing ideas, asking questions, sharing concerns, or making mistakes, and that their team provides a safe environment for reasonable interpersonal risk-taking. In the past few years, it has been a hot topic for good reason: if employees don’t feel safe at work, they can’t be at their best, which leads to less productivity and more accidents. Feeling safe at work can look different for everyone. Perhaps, for one person, it’s having properly-fitting personal protective equipment—that is, PPE available in women’s sizes as well as men’s. For another, it may be being able to wear clothing that represents their culture or ethnicity without feeling out of place, or it could mean that their team respects their opinions and asks for their input regardless of the color of their skin. Unfortunately, not everyone receives these kinds of support in their workplace.
Microaggressions—demeaning or dismissive comments and actions that are rooted in bias and directed at a person because of their gender, race, or other aspects of their identity—are frequently dismissed as insignificant because they are more subtle than overt discrimination. But according to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, microaggressions can negatively impact employees’ health, are received as disrespectful behavior, and can ultimately cause them to leave their companies. McKinsey found that women experience microaggressions—such as others taking credit for their ideas, questioning their judgment, or commenting on their appearance or emotional state—much more frequently than men. Women who belong to minority groups are affected by microaggressions even more significantly: 39 percent of women with disabilities feel their judgment is questioned, 30 percent of women belonging to the LGBTQ+ community report being interrupted or spoken over more than others, 22 percent of Black women have seen others take credit for their ideas, and 17 percent of Asian women say that others make assumptions about their culture.
Moreover, the more microaggressions experienced by an employee, the greater the detrimental impact on their psychological safety at work. McKinsey’s data shows that women are 4.2 times more likely to feel constantly burned out, 3.8 times more likely to feel they don’t have equal opportunities for advancement, 2.6 times more likely to say they do not recommend their company, and 3.3 times more likely to consider leaving their company.
BUSINESS BENEFITS OF DEI Readers may question how the data shared throughout this article impacts them, their companies, or business overall. However, research shows that DEI efforts benefit businesses and the economy as a whole in addition to individuals.
In 2017, analytics firm Gallup found that just three in 10 workers strongly agreed with the statement that their opinions seemed to count at work. However, Gallup stated that if organizations could increase the ratio to six in 10 workers believing their opinions counted, organizations could experience a 27 percent reduction in turnover, a 40 percent reduction in safety incidents, and a 12 percent increase in productivity.
According to the nonprofit Catalyst, companies with inclusive business cultures and policies may experience a 59 percent increase in creativity, innovation, and openness among their employees. These companies are 38 percent better at assessing their customers’ interest and demand and 58 percent more likely to have better reputations than others in the same industry. Teams within these companies solve problems faster and produce more, higher-quality product because they are composed of employees with different viewpoints and thinking. A 10 percent increase in the perception of a company’s inclusivity can add one day a year in work attendance per employee, Catalyst found—when it comes to productivity, you want to start with your employees being physically present at work.
According to McKinsey, companies can experience 39 percent improvement in their financial performance by including women and members of minority groups on their executive teams. The firm finds a strong correlation between diverse executive teams and companies known for their corporate citizenship and philanthropy efforts, workforce talent attraction and retention, and environmental climate strategies. In even broader terms, McKinsey estimates that narrowing the gender gap by 2025 could add $12 trillion in gross domestic product. Broadening services for Black Americans could result in $2 billion in potential revenue.
Chris Murdock, co-founder of recruiting firm IQTalent, emphasizes that when a company makes DEI a priority for its leadership and executive teams and implements DEI initiatives successfully throughout the organization, profits increase by up to 33 percent and profit margins by 21 percent. DEI is also key for finding and retaining talent, an aim that has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the “Great Resignation”: Murdock states that 80 percent of job seekers say a commitment to DEI is vital when choosing between employers. McKinsey reports that women leaders are more than 1.5 times as likely as men at their level to have left a previous job because they wanted to work for a company more committed to DEI.
IMPLEMENTING DEI IN YOUR WORKPLACE Given the benefits and necessity, what can individuals or organizations do to advance DEI? First, everyone must reflect on how they think and act. When you are conducting workplace risk assessments, do you consider the impacts of hazards on all employees, including those who use disability accommodations and anyone experiencing physical changes, such as pregnancy or gender transition? Do you implement hazard controls that all employee groups can use safely and correctly, such as properly-fitting PPE and tools that can be accessed by all team members regardless of size or shape?
Among your OEHS colleagues, think about whom you approach with questions, or when there’s a project you need help with—do you only approach colleagues who look or think like you? Are you really experiencing the full range of your colleagues’ thoughts, perspectives, and ideas by doing so?
Do you present yourself as an ally to your colleagues who belong to minority groups? Do you list your pronouns in your email signature? Have you ever taken the time to talk with a Black, Asian, or Hispanic team member and get to know them?
Section 4 of ISO 45003, Occupational Health and Safety Management, Psychological Health and Safety at Work, Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risk, states that organizations should “understand the needs and expectations of workers.” This is key to implementing DEI in your workforce. Are your training programs or safety posters inclusive, such as by trainers greeting employees with “Good morning, all,” instead of “Hey guys,” or using images that depict people of different genders and racial and ethnic backgrounds?
One popular saying, “Humans have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we talk,” reminds us to listen to each other before we share our own points of view. Likewise, we should think before we speak. For example, if you’re discussing weekend or vacation plans, do you assume that your colleague is married and has a spouse of the opposite gender, or do you ask about their partner or significant other?
If you’re a team leader or manager, consider what you can do to emphasize and promote equity among your team members. What do your team members need as individuals that can help them succeed and meet personal and team goals? Do what you can to create a safe environment. Consider ways to help your team members feel seen, heard, and valued. Sponsor or mentor someone in your organization who belongs to a minority community and work to understand their challenges and help them overcome them.
When hiring new team members, consider all candidates. Work with your human resources department to ensure that resumes are presented with names, gender-specific pronouns, ages, and other identifying information removed so that you evaluate candidates on their qualifications and experiences, without gender or ethnic backgrounds affecting your decision.
Try to get “real” with your team by being a little vulnerable with them and giving them opportunities to talk about topics important to them. Allow other team members to make connections based on commonalities they didn’t know existed before that moment.
Remember that DEI is a process. It’s hard and takes work, but it’s essential for the success of our organizations and of wider society. If an organization is to have a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, one of the top priorities of organizational leadership must be to address the gaps between genders and racial and ethnic groups in leadership pipelines, salaries, and culture. Share what you learn about the significance of DEI and take time to keep learning. Let’s work together to make our workplaces and the OEHS profession environments that value uniqueness and help people feel that they belong.
CHRISTINA ROLL, CIH, CSP, is a casualty risk consultant for AXA XL Insurance in Atlanta, Georgia, a member of the AIHA Safety and Conference Planning committees, and the research and development officer for the Women in IH Committee. She received the 2023 Aileen Yankowski Outstanding Leader of the Year Award, presented by the WIH Committee.
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Beyer High YouTube: “Equity vs. Equality” (April 2022).
Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.”
Catalyst: “Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter (Quick Take)” (June 2020).
Culture Amp: “Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Report: Understanding the DEI Landscape” (2022).
Gallup: “How to Create a Culture of Psychological Safety” (December 2017).
International Organization for Standardization: ISO 45003:2021, Occupational Health and Safety Management, Psychological Health and Safety at Work, Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risks (June 2021).
McKinsey & Company: “Women in the Workplace 2023” (October 2023).
Murdock, Chris: “How DEI Benefits the Bottom Line” (February 2022).
Pew Research Center: “The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap” (March 2023).
Safety and Health Magazine: “Salary Survey 2023” (October 2023).
Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society: “The Women’s Forum Barometer on Gender Equity Focused on Perception Versus Reality” (November 2023).
Zippia: “Certified Industrial Hygienist Demographics and Statistics in the U.S.
Zippia: “Environmental Health Safety Manager Demographics and Statistics in the U.S.