We met Camille at the ASSP Safety Conference in New Orleans where she delivered an inspirational presentation entitled, “How to Break Down Barriers as a Woman in Safety.”
Camille Oakes of Atlanta, GA, a safety professional with 13 years of experience, is keenly aware that as a woman in a male-dominated industry, she may be judged differently than her male counterparts. She’s made it her mission to shatter stereotypes and break the barriers that have made it hard for women in STEM to be taken seriously.
Camille says that there are numerous challenges facing women in STEM. There is a lack of consistent managerial and co-worker support due to the absence of women in leadership roles that limits mentoring and networking opportunities. There is an unfortunate legacy of toxic behaviors, such as sexism, discrimination, and sexual harassment. Finally, there are the internal questions of self-doubt that can damage a woman’s self-esteem.
All of these things can result in a lack of confidence, but Camille doesn’t believe in surrendering to doubt. As a champion for women, she knows firsthand that they are capable, intelligent, resourceful, and have the drive to triumph over these challenges.
An Apprehensive Beginning Gives Way to a Tough-As-Nails Outlook
Camille has a long history of jumping over hurdles. Her career in safety within a large corporation started at the young age of 21, when she admits that she looked about 16 years old. To be taken seriously in such a male-dominated industry, Camille thought dressing like a man with big heavy boots, little or no makeup, and glasses would boost her credibility.
“I tried to be something I wasn’t and tried to hide myself for a long time,” she says. “I felt like a little kid wearing my dad’s clothes.”
Camille grew tired of trying to be something she wasn’t by dressing in a masculine manner. She thought long and hard about it, and her light bulb moment came when she realized that being authentic and genuine would strengthen her position and further her career. Breaking down her internal barrier and becoming non-apologetic for being a woman, Camille grew more direct and confident in her role, and thus more comfortable wearing feminine clothing.
The thing that was most impactful for Camille during her career and solidified her confidence as a woman in STEM came after she interviewed for a job following the birth of her son. When she learned that the role would require travel, she halted the interview process because of the baby. Later that day, a female vice president called her and said that being a woman was a benefit, not a hindrance. She encouraged Camille to come on board and do the best job she could. Camille rose to the challenge and succeeded.
An Outspoken Problem Solver with a Knack for Safety
Via her business, Better Safety, Camille consults with companies to employ better training, better culture and better business practices by developing their safety professionals and improving their safety performance. She teaches safety and operations managers to partner with each other so they can figure out a way to do what operations wants, yet still be safe.
When she’s not on-site, Camille conducts leadership training for operations managers and supervisors on how to manage with safety in mind. She also works to develop safety professionals through speaking engagements and workshops that include sales techniques, presentational skills, preparation and communicating with non-safety professionals.
Women’s Protective Clothing Needs an Overhaul
Camille considers women’s protective clothing to be neither attractive nor well-fitting and is an obstacle that must be overcome. She adds that it’s very hard to find clothing to wear on the shop floor that won’t get caught in machinery, but that also works well in the board room. She asserts that women shouldn’t be ashamed to be fashionable, look professional or dress the way they want to dress in the workplace.
“I need good-looking, dependable clothing that doesn’t make me stand out in either venue; it needs to be versatile,” Camille explains. “The Xena work shoe does that; it’s a safety compliant shoe that makes me feel attractive, feminine and powerful.”
When She’s Not Breaking Down Barriers…
Camille is hanging out with her husband and her 2½-year-old son. She enjoys cooking and loves to travel. Living in downtown Atlanta gives her the opportunity to explore the city and all that it has to offer.