A network of health and safety professionals in the UAE has held its first women-only event as part of a drive to encourage more women to become actively involved.

With women accounting for only five per cent of its membership of nearly 1,700, the UAE Branch of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) is determined to take action.

It held the recent event, on Wednesday 7 August, at Movenpick Hotel in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, and was attended by 35 women – compared with between two and three at open events. It was hoped staging the event would make female members feel more comfortable and also uncover some of the barriers they face in their working life.

They held an open discussion about the challenges women face working in occupational health and safety in the Middle East. Some of the issues included a perception women can’t give instructions, a reluctance to listen to women based on an assumption they lack knowledge, and a balance between family and work demands.

Other comments included the prominence of misogynist remarks, jokes and working in a hostile environment, and the fact that networking opportunities appeared to be tailored for men, for example bad timing for mothers.

At the event, Karthi Kanakarajan, OHS Manager for water and waste-water services provider Moalajah, looked back over her career and the challenges she has faced because of gender inequality.

She said it is crucial companies have a strong gender equality policy, to provide a good environment for women to advance, but added that women also require the right kind of personal attitude.

Clara Demilew, member of the UAE Branch Committee and HSEQ Specialist for oil and shipping company Monjasa, helped to organize the event and also presented to delegates.

After the event, she said: “We strategically decided to host an event for female OHS professionals in the region to create a comfortable environment to uncover the challenges and barriers preventing them from being visible in the region, the profession and the branch, so that we could brainstorm solutions and develop an action plan.

“A further part of this strategy is to follow up with a workshop, where we will bring together our network, both female and male members, to discuss initiatives and practical strategies to remove the barriers in the workplace and the region and realize the organizational benefits of diversity and inclusion.

“The event was well received, since it was the first of its kind, and well attended. It is clear that the event had an impact judging by the level of membership inquiries we had from women after it and feedback received directly via our social networks.”

One comment said: “Thanks Clara for organizing this. It was very educating and empowering. I’ll look forward to more of this.”

Another said: “It was so good to meet so many women breaking stereotypes. Great event.”

And another said: “It was so great to see women with great passion towards safety.”