Cassandra Barrow GradIOSH describes how the cloud of a COVID redundancy had a silver lining in the shape of an exciting new role at the Football Association (FA), where she is embracing a broad range of OSH challenges while working to promote diversity and inclusion.
How and why did you get into health and safety?
I discovered health and safety as an undergraduate studying food with nutrition. I was in my second year when someone suggested environmental health as a possible career. I looked into it in more depth and decided to do a master’s in environmental health. The course covered housing, health and safety, food safety and environment. I enjoyed all the different elements, but health and safety was my favourite. While completing my dissertation, I started a one-year graduate internship with Wiltshire Council’s environmental health team. It was great to get a local authority perspective.
What led you to join the FA?
I was happy in my previous role as a health and safety compliance officer at Bristol Water, but I was made redundant due to COVID-19. I saw a job advert for the role of health and safety adviser for the FA, based at Wembley Stadium, but I never thought I’d get it. Initially, I had to submit a series of short videos to answer some questions and then I was invited to a video interview. I started in January this year.
How does your role at the FA compare with other sectors you’ve experienced?
It’s pushed me way outside my comfort zone! I’m fortunate to have a great manager who inspires me. I learn something new every day. People have a misconception that it’s just about football, but I’ve covered everything from construction projects to event safety. I haven’t tackled such a broad range of challenges in my other jobs. It’s also been my first public-facing experience.
What was it like working at Wembley during the European Championships this summer?
The Euros were a once-in-a-lifetime experience: it was amazing to work at the final. When I started, matches were being played behind closed doors. It was great this summer to have crowds back, although I haven’t yet seen Wembley at full capacity.
You are keen to promote diversity in the profession, being female and BAME. How do you play your part?
At work we’ve started an Ethnicity Culture Network, for which I am communications lead. In the light of the Black Lives Matter movement, the aim is to promote diversity and inclusion and raise awareness of discrimination, which is important in football. The network is FA-wide. Outside work, I have previously attended Women in Health and Safety Network events.
The health and safety profession has traditionally been mostly white, male and older. I feel proud to be a young female in the profession. If other young women can see that if I can do it, they can do it.
What has been your experience as a young female in H&S?
It’s been a mixed bag: there have been welcoming people and not-so-welcoming people. But I focus on my enjoyment of my work and what I can do to help make active change. Diversity is so important for the younger generation to see that there are people like them working in health and safety.
Discrimination is probably more on the radar at the FA than in other sectors. I’ve certainly never worked anywhere with anything like our Ethnicity Culture Network. But diversity needs to receive more time and focus everywhere. Equally, we also need to be thinking about the LGBTQ+ community.
How has IOSH membership supported your career?
I’ve been a member since I was a student and I think IOSH is such a helpful network. I watch the webinars, which are so accessible and regular and feature amazing guest speakers. The different local branches are all so welcoming. I’m looking forward to more in-person events soon.
IOSH has already helped my career and now, with the support of my manager, I’m looking at working towards Chartered Member status.
What has been your greatest achievement in your career so far?
I’m proudest of securing my current job at the FA. Redundancy is so hard – emotionally, financially, practically – but it teaches you a lot. Having this unbelievable opportunity come out of a redundancy and the hardships of the pandemic has been brilliant.
And your greatest challenge?
Not being supported and encouraged by previous managers. Now that I have such an amazing manager, I realise how important it is in your career to have that support. I feel very optimistic.
What do you wish you’d known before joining the profession?
If you want to understand something, or if something doesn’t look right, ask!
What lies ahead for future leaders?
As OSH professionals we need to be able to think on the spot. We also need to be flexible and optimistic. Health and safety is dynamic, so we also need to be dynamic so that we can adapt to face new challenges.
Cassandra’s dos and don’ts for driving diversity
- Do focus on the individual and their potential. It’s about what someone can bring to a role, and that varies from person to person.
- Do invest time in promoting diversity and inclusion within the organisation. Management should invest time in diversity awareness. It should be high on the agenda.
- Don’t focus too heavily on experience when recruiting. It can be frustrating when job adverts demand a set of certificates or a specific number of years’ experience.
Read about more IOSH Future Leaders here.