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Being a woman in male-dominated workplaces

AIHS Naomi Kemp


Chair of AIHS, fr&nk Co-Founder, and Safe Expectations Director, Naomi Kemp started her WHS career at the frontier of women working in Australia’s male-dominated, high-risk industries. Whether testing safety at a lead smelter or conducting mining site risk assessments, at Naomi’s core is a love of science, a deep curiosity, and a willingness to say, “I don’t know” and then seek the answers.

We interviewed Naomi to hear the story of how she came to be an advocate for WHS and to mentor and support business leaders and fellow safety experts to champion WHS.
Being a woman in male-dominated workplaces came with its challenges, particularly, she said, when those places weren’t designed for her to be in them.
“I grew up in a mining town, and there was limited employability. I loved chemistry and science, so initially I worked as a hairdresser on the weekend while studying. I finished my trade and then travelled to Europe only to return to Queensland with a broadened mindset. So, I applied for a job in the mine’s metallurgical labs. That job exposed me to a ton of WHS hazards and risks.”
The moment management realised she was confident in asking questions about what was happening around her, they encouraged her to take on WHS.
“Even then as a young worker, I started asking challenging questions as simple as ‘is this okay?’ because I wasn’t sure. Thankfully that was seen as a positive. The bosses realised I wasn’t afraid to speak up, so they sent me to OSH Officer training and it’s from there I incorporated health and safety in my roles. After working in different roles in the mine, I eventually became a senior manager in OSH.”
AIHS Naomi Kemp
When asked if being a woman created any barriers for her on that WHS career journey, her confidence and comfort in standing up for herself shone through.
“I have seen how women have been left out of the ‘boys club’ in workplaces – experiences can be different for each person even in the same company. In those instances, when you’re not getting what you want from the leadership around you, be the leader for others.”
Another barrier she acknowledges is how in the early days of her work, designing for WHS didn’t consider women. Industries have evolved since then, including personal protective equipment (PPE) being made to fit women’s bodies. Naomi points to what’s changed over the years, including a lot more awareness across the sectors and work re-design to make workplaces more inclusive particularly in body-centric roles.
AIHS Naomi Kemp
But, When asked how women can support ech other when working in these male-dominated sectors she says,
“It’s about how we can give opportunities where we can to each other, and to recognise when women are in leadership roles. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also asking, ‘what else can I do to uplift and promote this person?’ as women succeed, and if possible, help each other crack into boardroom spaces.”
Naomi has hope for the future of the sectors and for bettering women’s experiences in the workplace – whether as WHS professionals or as workers in traditionally male-dominated industries.
“[Our] greatest opportunity is to continue to focus on driving diversity and inclusion where we can – whether its gender, physical ability, individual culture - all of it. For us at AIHS, it’s about what technical capability do you need from a person who can fulfil the role in the cultural and systemic context of the workplace.”
Today, Naomi approaches her WHS advocacy in three ways. She helps business managers to create “awesome workplaces for their people that are safe, healthy and legally compliant” within the context of that workplace’s unique circumstances and challenges, whether a farm or a mine. For workers, she sees her role as taking them on an improvement journey to help them have better outcomes at work. The third way is as a coach and mentor to health and safety professionals to “enable their capability within business – to help them influence and speak the language of business rather than just their technical safety area.” She believes that everyone in the workplace should champion WHS and to “advocate from that people-centred perspective. All people should care about themselves and their work mates.”
In closing, when we asked what she hopes for the sector, she became enthusiastic about its future. She wants to see it uplifted and elevated.
“I’d love to get rid of the cringe that comes with saying ‘health and safety person’ and have our sector be equally as proud as saying ‘doctor’ and ‘fire fighter’– it’s STEM, it’s a science – get into it!”

Join us at the World Congress on Safety and Health in November and learn from experts like Naomi Kemp on how to create safe and inclusive workplaces for all. Register now and be part of the global movement for workplace safety and health.

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