EHS on Tap: E62 The Importance of Diversity in EHS

Safety pros

Diversity is more than a buzzword or a series of checkboxes for your organization’s human resources department during the hiring process. However, it’s often unclear what role diversity plays in a successful EHS program or why it should matter to EHS professionals.

To prepare for our upcoming webinar on December 10, 2020 at 2:00 PM Eastern on the importance of diversity in EHS, we spoke with Laurie Knape, an EHS professional from our webinar sponsor, Avetta. So, don’t forget to register when you finish listening (or reading the transcript below). We hope to see you there!

Register for our free Diversity in EHS webcast here!


Justin Scace: Hello, everyone. And welcome to EHS on Tap. I’m your host, Justin Scace, Senior Editor of the EHS Daily Advisor. And we hope that all of our listeners are doing all they can to remain healthy and safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now, diversity and inclusion are hot topics at organizations worldwide, but too often, the impact on environment, health, and safety is overlooked. In order to help fill this gap, the EHS Daily Advisor teamed with Avetta to conduct research into diversity and its importance to EHS from the shop floor to the supply chain. The report on this research is now available for download from the EHS Daily Advisor. And we will also be hosting a webcast on December 10th, 2020 with a diverse group of EHS professionals who will examine and discuss the research, as well as provide insight into the importance of diversity and inclusion to the EHS profession. We hope you’ll join us for this presentation, and you can reserve your spot today via the links that appear on this EHS on Tap podcast episode’s webpage on the EHS Daily Advisor.

Now, in advance of our webcast discussion taking place next week, today, we’re going to be talking over some of the basics about the importance of diversity to EHS with Laurie Knape, an EHS professional with our research sponsor, Avetta. Laurie has over 20 years of environment, health, and safety experience and holds CSP, ASP, and CLSC designations. She is also a certified DNV auditor, holds a master’s training certificate for aerial working platforms and forklifts, and is a certified RigPass instructor. Laurie has been a member of the American Society of Safety Professionals for over 12 years. And earlier this year, she accepted the vice-chair position for her local ASSP group. So, Laurie, thank you for taking the time to be with us today on EHS on Tap.

Laurie Knape: Oh, thank you for having us.

Justin Scace: Absolutely. Now, to start things off, there’s a misconception out there that within organizations, diversity is primarily a human resources concern. Can you talk a little bit about why diversity is also important to the environment, health, and safety function, and indeed, organizations as a whole?

Laurie Knape: Absolutely. And you’re correct, diversity has the misconception of being solely a part of an organization’s hiring profile to meet contractual needs, to obtain certain work or part of their corporate social responsibilities. While all of this is important, diversity is so much more. Diversity is much more than a human resource function. It’s classically defined as involving people from different social or ethnic backgrounds, different genders, or cultures. Inclusion can be defined as including people who have historically been excluded because of race, gender, or ability. Inclusion can also be defined as behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome. And that certainly is the definition that I like to go with more than the other, because we certainly want our employees and our contractors to feel as if they are important, valued, and welcome. So with diversity, it brings a wealth of knowledge and experiences to the work teams.

Diversity makes teams smarter and more productive. The diverse skills, backgrounds, and life experiences allow the teams to create more effective action plans and strategies. Diversity helps the teams to become more comprehensive in their solutions and more productive by having an open acceptance to gain valuable contributions that might otherwise have been lost or missed. It’s an important opportunity where things aren’t lost or missed because you have your tunnel vision and your blinders on. An important role of diversity within an organization is empowering your employees and contractors to feel that they belong and are part of a team, that their thoughts are valued and respected. Contributions from team members add value to safety, production, and the overall cohesiveness of the organization. This simple task can be accomplished by providing a sense of confidence and inclusion that they can speak freely, share experiences, and participate without fear of retaliation or rebuttal. Employees want to work for, and work hard, for companies that they believe are inclusive and that value their thoughts and their contributions.

Justin Scace: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for those definitions and how important diversity is to organizations as a whole. But my next question is how can EHS professionals, specifically, how can they contribute to diversity and inclusion efforts at their companies?

Laurie Knape: EHS professionals can be a huge factor in diversity inclusion. They can contribute in several ways. Most EHS professionals do not have a disciplinary role, that is left to the supervisors. This allows the EHS professionals to listen and learn from the employees and contractors. EHS professionals have the opportunity to cultivate interpersonal empathy with employees. Because EHS professionals do not typically contribute to an employee’s review for raise or promotion, they have the opportunity to create a safe space for the employees to share concerns or issues without that worry of judgment. EH and S professionals listen and can provide a sense of confidence that the employee can speak up. Active listening empowers employees to share and contribute at a greater level. This sharing provides greater data for the EH professional to develop safety or training needs and bring forward new or unknown concerns or thoughts. Having conversations in a diverse group provides greater data to cultivate those greater safety programs.

Justin Scace: All right, interesting. Now, Avetta’s research with us, we went beyond parent organizations to also examine diversity’s effect on the supply chain. Why is it important to examine the diversity of an organization’s contractors, vendors, and suppliers as well as within their core business, and what are also some of the challenges in doing so?

Laurie Knape: Contractors, vendors, suppliers are typically stated to be given the same training and the same affordabilities as direct hire employees. And it’s important that organizations at all levels, whether they’re a small company or a large company, really hold that true. Organizations will improve and grow their businesses by supporting a work environment that is diverse, inclusive, and respectful of everyone that works for them, whether it is that direct hire, contractor, vendor, or supplier. An inclusive culture will allow organizations to draw from the talents, backgrounds, and varied perspectives of their contractors, vendors, and suppliers. It gives you more data to draw from to create greater profiles. An inclusive culture will enhance their ability to attract and retain the best workforce, enabling them to better serve and broaden their own customer base. Working with contractors, vendors, and suppliers that combine supplier diversity and inclusion with additional diversity and inclusion programs will enhance their reputation, retain customers, and, potentially, obtain new business.

This inclusion culture will solidify the organization, and by including contractors, vendors, and suppliers, it will support their supply chain management services. There are challenges to be addressed, that’s for sure. Challenges associated with diversity in supply chain can come from stigma or biased opinions. These opinions can be from past experiences or possibly stories heard. It can even be an unconscious bias, a preconceived notion that without facts or data to support that bias. When we are not aware of our biases, we hinder our team’s ability to feel confident and comfortable and allow free and open speech and conversations. An unconscious bias could be a demographic bias or generational bias. We need to expand our view based on data collected and analyzed, not rumor or speculation. Analyzing data can be an additional challenge to track the diversity of an organization’s tier one, or tier two suppliers.

While that may not seem important, it is truly important to evaluate how the organization is performing with its diversity of suppliers. There are additional challenges to creating and maintaining a diverse supplier base. Without a good supply chain management program, it can be a challenge to locate qualified, diverse suppliers. There are resources available, but this can be time-consuming and overwhelming if there are not the correct tools in place and provided. Tools can be programs, staff, or both, a combination of both. Another challenge is verifying that the supplier does truly meet the criteria to be a diverse business. There are guidelines associated with this as well. The global landscape of work is changing. It makes good business to have a diverse supplier base with the increasing diverse markets organizations work in. Simply put, supplier diversity is critical to an organization in today’s global market.

Justin Scace: All right, excellent. So, one of the big parts of any EHS program is training. Now, when and how can diversity and inclusion be incorporated into EHS training programs?

Laurie Knape: Well, as a trainer, this is certainly something, of course, that’s near and dear to me because training is so important and proper training and repeat training is so important to make sure that we are safe and we are all going home the way we came into work every day. So, diversity and inclusion should be incorporated into EH and S trainings. Trainings should convey information and facilitate dialogue that promotes diversity, inclusion, and respectful environments. It is vital to verify that your training groups are psychologically safe during the training. And what I mean by that is to promote respectful participation, encouraging the participants of the training to speak up and share their prior experiences or trainings, good or bad. All of it is wealth of knowledge and beneficial. When providing feedback or engaging in open conversations with the participants as the trainer, you yourself must be open to learning new things as well.

Laurie Knape: When participation occurs, especially voluntary participation that you don’t have to draw out of them, affirmation should be used to show the positive effect of sharing experiences. It’s important to, again, build that sense of trust and inclusion and confidence that we want to know what their thoughts are and what their experiences have been to better our own programs and to make our companies safer. Emphasize, at this time, that the learning environment, confirming that the participants understand what has been shared and providing ample time for questions and further discussion. This will support the message that everyone’s thoughts, experiences, and knowledge are valued.

Justin Scace: Great. Thank you for that. So we’re going to be learning more about the research results of our diversity in the EHS survey and diversity’s overall impact on EHS in Avetta’s upcoming webinar that I mentioned in the intro. But before we sign off on today’s podcast episode, could you briefly describe some of the benefits of prioritizing diversity and inclusion within an organizational EHS program?

Laurie Knape: Absolutely. So most people are personally committed to diversity and inclusion. With our gathering of families and our global transportation and our global events, we’ve become such a global community versus just a local community. However, even though people are personally committed to diversity and inclusion, they do not always speak up or speak freely when others say or act against that mission. Sometimes people are still afraid to speak for a fear of retaliation, fear of ridicule, fear of being put down. So we need to make sure that we support them and encourage them to speak forward. So when something like that occurs, it is time to become a respectful disruptor by taking a personal commitment to stand up for diversity and inclusion. This can occur by creating open conversations that promote acceptance. Organizations will see an improvement in their business internally and externally by continuing to support a work environment that is diverse, inclusive, and respectful. Working with diverse groups of suppliers allows an organization to meet or exceed their customers’ expectations. Organizations that have a robust supplier diversity program and initiatives maintain a competitive advantage, secure new business, and retain existing customers.

Justin Scace: Thank you very much. Some excellent points there. It’s good for the workforce and it’s good for business as well. And we’re also very much looking forward to next week’s webcast and panel discussion about the continuing importance of diversity and inclusion to EHS. So, thank you again, Laurie, for joining us today for this episode of EHS on Tap.

Laurie Knape: Thank you for having me, Justin.

Justin Scace: Absolutely, any time. And a reminder to our audience to please join us for our upcoming webinar, sponsored by Avetta, where we will be continuing the conversation on diversity and EHS. The presentation will take place next Thursday, December 10th at 2:00 PM Eastern Time. And over the course of the hour, our EHS Daily Advisor editorial staff will be joined by a diverse panel of environment, health, and safety pros like yourselves for a discussion of the research into diversity in EHS, our panelists’ experiences with diversity and inclusion within the profession, plus a live Q&A session with our audience. So, to save your place, register for this event today at the links provided on this podcast episode’s EHS Daily Advisor webpage, and we hope to see you there.

And as always, keep an eye out for new episodes of EHS on Tap and keep reading the EHS Daily Advisor to stay on top of your safety and environmental compliance obligations, get the latest in best practices, and keep your finger on the pulse of all things related to the EHS industry. Until next time, this is Justin Scace for EHS on Tap.

Join our EHS Daily Advisor editorial staff and expert panel on December 10, 2020, for a free webinar on diversity as it relates to environment, health, and safety programs. In this webinar, we will dive into recent research on diversity in EHS from Avetta and the EHS Daily Advisor as well as lead an interactive discussion with our panelists to help you better understand the role diversity plays in an organization’s EHS program.

Register for our free webcast and panel discussion today!


EHS on Tap is an environmental, health, and safety podcast by BLR’s EHS Daily Advisor. On each episode of EHS on Tap, our host will discuss emerging legal, regulatory, and policy issues with industry experts and the impacts to everyday safety and environmental professionals. EHS on Tap topics run the gamut of contemporary issues facing EHS managers and professionals today.

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