Ivanka Trump’s upcoming (May 2017) book, “Women who work: Rewriting the Rules for Success” contains an unwritten message for the demographic mean 53-year-old male OSH pro: “you need to change with the times.”

Per the “Economic Report of the President,” transmitted to the Congress, February 2015:

  • In 2013, women accounted for 46.9 percent of all workers and 44.1 percent of all hours worked
  • About two-thirds of occupations in 1970 were 80 percent or more male; today, about 40 percent of occupations fall into that category
  • More than 40 percent of new mothers are now the sole or primary source of income for household. 

Ivanka fits into the above.

Transformative technology

Technology is transforming women’s role in society in disruptive but eventually productive ways. The global Women’s March, the day after Donald Trump became president, began with a single Facebook post. Technology is reshaping women’s role in the workplace. 

CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronic Show, celebrated its 50th anniversary January 2017 in Vegas with more than 165,000 attendees. CES exhibits can be mined to spot societal and business trends. “Baby Tech: Health, Safety and On-the-Go,” launched at CES 2016, is a prime example.  Baby Tech, a $23-billion annual market that targets the four million babies born annually in the U.S., commands its own area within CES, almost as large as the entire show back in 1967. 

Wearable technology at CES 2017 includes monitors that track fetal heart beats (links to phone so family and friends can listen, too); monitors that measure strength and frequency of contractions and so much more. Time away from the job to pump breast milk? Not anymore. At $430, Willow Breast Pump fits discreetly under a bra to silently pump breast milk while the mother multitasks. At normal break time, remove and store the collection bag in a cooler. Ever heard of baby noise and VOC monitors?  They were at CES17.

Millennials make their mark

More than 80 percent of babies are born to Millennials and this demographic embraces technology and uses it in ways never imagined by their parents.  Millennials use apps linking to social media so that concerns and Q&A may be shared with thousands, tens-of-thousands of other women going through pregnancy. 

Recent research asserts that pregnancy apps “may empower and inform women so that they take more responsibility for their health, but the quality of the information offered is often dubious and may supplant professional advice.” Dubious information or not, the majority (56 percent) of first-time moms said pregnancy apps provide valuable information.

Baby Tech’s rise comes at a critical time for employers and their workers. This question appears in the PHR®/SPHR® Professional in Human Resources Certification Study Guide, Fourth Edition, 2012:

What is an employer’s responsibility when workplace conditions pose a threat to an unborn child?

  1. Do nothing.  It is up to employees to protect their unborn children.
  2. Move employee into a different job that does not pose a threat to the unborn child.
  3. Advise the employee of the potential threat, and allow the employee to make the decision.
  4. Allow only sterile employees to work in jobs that pose a threat to unborn children.

Reluctance to engage

OSH pros remain reluctant to engage the correct answer above. To support the correct answer in the HR question, a Millennial graduate student at the University of Toledo, created and beta-tested the pregnancy app “First 9” within a thesis successfully defended in late-2016. The learning app helps pregnant workers recognize, evaluate and control risks when their employer is reluctant to accept this responsibility. 

With the First 9 app, women at work may conduct baseline risk assessments to identify a risk, how and when to apply the DNEL to protect from risk exposure, why safe lifts during pregnancy must range from 36-0 lbs., why noise must be measured on the “C” scale and not “A,” limits for temperatures extremes, biological exposures, radiation (EMFs and solar, too), breastfeeding safety, various aspects of pregnancy and more.

First 9 joins the growing number of pregnancy “threats” apps to help women make safe and healthy choices. Threats apps and other Baby Tech tools support unmet needs and will help rewrite workplace safety rules.

Accepting disruption

ISHN 2017 “EHS State of the Nation” finds that technology is a hot topic among OSH pros. Technology’s influence is disrupting when unanticipated. Applying organizational context in ISO standards, particularly upcoming ISO 45001 in late-2017, supports decision-making when issues such as technology impact the workplace. The values, attitudes and beliefs of internal and external stakeholders, influenced by technology or whatever, must be understood.

It’s a Millennial-world now. Older pros must change with the times. Riding out change until
retirement is impractical given the speed of adoptive technology.