Why soft skills can mitigate gender-based violence in the workplace

How to develop critical communication tools to tackle an increasing problem

Why soft skills can mitigate gender-based violence in the workplace

Over the past several years the realm of workplace safety has been expanding to encompass not only physical risks but also emotional well-being, and in male dominated industries, it’s often women who encounter hazards because of their gender. Camille Oakes, president and CEO of Better Safety, is an advocate for promoting the use of soft skills to prevent gender-based violence in male-dominated workplaces.

"These soft skills are often overlooked in male-populated industries, deemed less important," Oakes notes. "However, it's imperative to realize that they are vital tools for building a culture of safety and respect."

Oakes focuses on safety leadership development, emphasizing the power of soft skills like emotional intelligence, communication, and flexibility. These skills are a pivotal tool in tackling gender-based violence.

"It all comes down to being a convincing communicator and understanding the perspectives of those we're communicating with," says Oakes, who has witnessed a lack of awareness and understanding among safety leaders regarding gender-based violence.

"Many safety professionals are unaware that gender-based violence is even a significant risk in the workplace," Oakes points out. "It's crucial for them to understand the realities faced by female employees, as well as the legal implications for their organizations."

Injuries from violent attacks are on the rise, and according to the Washington Post’s analysis of US labour statistics, the increase is almost entirely attacks against women.

In Canada, a federal government survey of about 1,200 workers (1,000 women and 200 men) found 60 percent experienced some form of harassment on the job, while 30 percent experience sexual harassment, and 21 percent experienced violence.

"It's alarming that this is not widely known among safety professionals," Oakes states. "This issue needs more attention to ensure the safety of women in the workplace."

To address this pressing issue, Oakes encourages safety professionals to educate themselves and their organizations. She suggests starting with resources like ASSP's 2019 women's report, which provides valuable insights into gender-based violence, women's safety, and access to appropriate PPE.

Oakes also stresses the importance of direct communication with the female workforce to truly understand their experiences and concerns.

"When addressing gender-based violence," Oakes advises, "considering the whole person is paramount. We must be willing to see the truth, even if it challenges our assumptions. This is what safety professionals are here for – to assess risks and protect every worker."

Oakes believes addressing gender-based violence requires a holistic approach. She highlights the connection between diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, emphasizing the role of safety leaders in shaping a workplace culture that values every individual. She urges safety professionals to recognize protecting employees extends beyond physical safety, encompassing emotional well-being as well.

"Our role is to see people as their total selves, to understand the unique risks they face, and to advocate for their safety in every aspect," says Oakes. "By harnessing the power of emotional intelligence and soft skills, we can create workplaces where all individuals feel safe, respected, and valued."