Recently, Professional Safety magazine did a quick question-and-answer profile about Louise Vallee, who is serving as chairman of the mentorship program led by the ASSE Women in Safety Engineering Common Interest Group.
As you might imagine, safety engineering is one of those fields that you can say is male-dominant. Women have made some inroads in the last couple of decades, where there are a number of women in the field who serve as mentors to younger women just coming into the field, and Vallee is heading up that mentorship initiative to help women get into the field and succeed right alongside their male counterparts.
Vallee answered a couple questions about women in safety engineering work and how mentors help them navigate the industry.
- Some unique challenges for women in the field?
There are typical challenges that most women face in any industry – returning to work after caring for a sick family member, or returning to work after having a child, and the transition period that most women go through.
However, Vallee discusses something that is also a somewhat-universal truth in many areas,, and that is visibility within a corporate structure. There are a few people who tend to be very concerted about letting higher-ups know about the work they are doing, but the vast majority of people (women included) tend to be more humble, put their nose to the grindstone and have a consistently high work ethic and let that speak for itself.
Vallee notes, rightly, that to be successful and advance, work ethic and intelligence are only half of the battle. The other half is about “bragging” but in a positive and productive way. Mentors take on the role of advising mentees with great ambition how to speak up and be visible in a positive and humble way, to put their work front of mind when it comes to promotion and bonuses that move mentees to new levels of success.
- Why is mentoring so important?
Vallee said that mentorship can be vital for all workers (not just women) because of the value of experience. The mentees can know that while his or her experience is unique to others of the same generation in the industry, chances are he or she is matched up with a mentor who has blazed that similar trail, understood and actually developed the knowledge and tools to work through that similar challenge.
Part of what makes a mentor-mentee relationship is that matching of a mentor’s experience with a mentee’s similar challenges and them working together to nevigate the challenges and how to be successful moring forward in avoiding those challenges and being successful 10 or 15 or 20 years later and being able to mentor someone else.
- Talk us through the mentor/mentee matching process.
Vallee enjoys the honesty and forthrightness of mentees who apply to join the mentorship program. As much information as they give about themselves in the application process – including skills, industry background, education, achievements, passions, goals and expectations – helps those in the matching process learn about who they are and makes it easier to match up with a mentor who will be a fit.
And Vallee said she has been fortunate enough to meet many mentors at various ASSE events, and getting to know them and their personalities and backgrounds helps her be able to make a match with a mentee who has similar background, similar skills and a matching personality that will allow them to relate well over the course of a year-long mentorship.
She went on to say that the onus on the entire process is on the mentee controlling and driving communication with the mentor. The mentee is expected to reach out to a mentor at least once a month either by phone, e-mail or some other form. With this communication, the mentee should at least inform the mentor about progress in the job, address questions or challenges and have a dialogue so that the mentee gets the most out of the mentorship, and mentor can utilize her experience and give it generously as the mentee needs it for future success in safety.