When I attended ASSP’s Safety 2020 virtual conference at the end of June, there were a few sessions that immediately stood out to me. Two sessions focused on diversity in the safety world, and how to create a more inclusive environment. One, a plenary session, featured a panel of three speakers discussing safety amidst recent events as more people become aware of race issues. Another session, called “Racing toward Inclusion: How to Impact Your Safety Culture,” offered an action plan and the speakers helped attendees understand what it means to be inclusive.

I believe both these sessions offered valuable information for all safety professionals, so I want to highlight a few of the main takeaways.

Steps to take

Dr. Cori Wong, a writer, educator and consultant who leads diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at Colorado State University, has consulted with ASSP through Women in Safety Excellence for years. She joined Lindsay Bell, MPH, CSP, a regional health and safety manager at Solvay Novecare, and Jose Perez, corporate senior manager, in a plenary session at Safety 2020. 

In another session, Bell and Abby Ferri, co-founder of Safety Justice League, detailed their P.I.T. S.T.O.P. system to help attendees understand how inclusion affects employee engagement, communication, retention and career advancement.

“We are currently having this conversation in the midst of major shifts – a global pandemic and now a very strong uprising in our country around issues that have not been new,” said Dr. Wong. “It’s everyone’s job to continue doing the work to change American workplaces and respond to one another’s needs, discrepancies and opportunities that have been highlighted over the past several months.”

Dr. Wong went on to say that diversity is not enough to create a workplace where difference is respected and valued. Once you have diversity in your workplace, inclusion is the next step companies must take. She defined inclusion as “bringing those differences in ways that can be beneficial for creating an environment where there is the advantage of more perspectives being used to address significant problems.”

She said: “In a bigger context within the organization, inclusion actually leads to better-operating organizations because they have the advantage of having different perspectives, experiences and voices at the table helping to shape how an organization runs.”

Employers also need to acknowledge inequities. “Where you have inequities within an organization can be disproportionate in power and also risk. So, for safety professionals, thinking about it means to focus on the people who have greater harm, greater risk, a greater burden. Not everybody is subject to the same type of risk or the same amount of risk,” Dr. Wong said.

Words and their meaning

In one session, Bell discusses what diversity, equality and inclusion actually mean. All three have distinct definitions that not all fully understand. She said diversity shows that everyone is individual and different, while equality means everyone has equal access to opportunity. Inclusion is defined as “a sense of belonging, feeling respected, valued for who you are, and feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best at work.”

Bell said inclusivity should be the goal: “You want your team to feel like they belong, like they are valued and that they are respected.”

Bell and Ferri went on to explain their P.I.T. S.T.O.P. acronym, which means Pause, Invite, Trust, Shift gears, Turn the Corner, Open and Proceed. This process should help create needed change and open up dialogue for a better workplace.

Safety professionals need to pause, collaborate and listen to colleagues to understand all perspectives. They should invite people from marginalized and diverse perspectives including race, gender and ability (without forcing them into volunteering) to form a committee to discuss change and actions that can lead to solutions.

The speakers said you should have trust that people are not complaining, but rather communicating, then shift gears by using feedback to choose which actions you will take next, and open yourself up to learning, and possibly failing. The last step is proceeding with calls to action, challenging old habits and seeking new perspectives.