800-680-4106 office@gotouaa.org

Women in Safety: Thinking Differently, Acting Diversely, Leading Decisively

By Alaina Zieglar, Director of Safety and Human Performance, Lewis Services

Imagine this: Steve Harvey—America’s gregarious gameshow host, comedian, and author—has been asked to serve as a guest speaker at the 2024 Trees & Utilities Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. To kick things off on a fun note, Harvey calls two companies up to the stage to play a quick round of Family Feud. After some good-natured tree puns that were “oak-kay,” Harvey poses the following question: “We asked 100 people, what comes to mind when you think of safety?”

Both companies immediately hit their buzzers and excitedly rattle off answers like hard hats, harnesses, drop zones, and all-stops, while audience members eagerly add 360 Walkaround, pre-job surveys, flaggers, and gear checks. Harvey’s eyes grow wide as he slowly turns to face the enthusiastic crowd and teasingly quips, “Not the answers I would get from MOST people…. You folks sure have an interesting way of looking at things!”

Thinking Differently

In this fictitious yet fun scenario, Harvey seems to suggest that people in the utility vegetation management sector think about safety differently than the general population, and he would be correct! Thinking differently (and perhaps more importantly, thinking diversely) is necessary for creating an environment that fosters innovation, collaboration, and inclusivity—all critical conditions for advancements in safety.

Today’s evolving UVM workforce is becoming increasingly diverse in its cultural, racial, and gender makeup. At my company Lewis Services, a 100% employee-owned company with 60% minority workforce, greater diversity at all levels of the company has positively impacted how we view everything from communications to training, from policies to processes. Lewis and our vegetation management colleagues are continuously investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs because it’s the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and yes, the “safety” thing to do.

As a female professional who has dedicated my entire career to safety in “traditionally male” sectors, it is gratifying to see more women pursuing careers and leadership positions in industries such as UVM, construction, manufacturing, auto tech, and skilled trades. Organizations like the Utility Arborist Association are helping to shepherd this movement by shining a light on women in UVM through events like the Women in Vegetation Management Workshop at the annual Trees & Utilities Conference and a dedicated “Women in VM” column in every issue of the Newsline. It’s a privilege for me to contribute this article to those efforts.

Acting Diversely

The need for more women in predominantly male sectors is not exclusive to the VM industry. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2023, less than 30% of the manufacturing workforce is represented by women, and that statistic falls to just 11% in the construction sector. The percentage of women in UVM hovers around 22%. With chronic labor shortages in these fields, accelerated recruitment of women candidates is not only necessary from an operations standpoint but critical from a diversity standpoint.

Heather Steranka, Lewis’ Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, points to research that further illustrates how diverse leadership provides many benefits for businesses. “McKinsey & Company have compiled and analyzed compelling data over several years that shows, without a doubt, companies with higher gender, racial, and ethnic diversity on their executive teams are more than 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies that don’t.” And while many companies see the value of developing a diverse workforce to build culture and impact, they may not be as aware of the safety benefits connected to diversity—benefits that are amplified with women at the table.

In an EHS Today article (Valentic, 2019), the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) CEO Jennifer McNelly stated, “Diversifying the safety profession is not about meeting quotas. It’s really about safety.” She continued, “We want to create work environments that ensure that all employees are safe. If women—or any other group—don’t have a voice at the table, then their perspectives are lost, along with opportunities to protect the workforce at large.”

From a historical perspective, women have been behind some of the most transformative safety standards that continue to impact our world today. In the article “Women’s Achievements in Safety” (ASSP, 2019), the American Society of Safety Professionals pays homage to women who have improved safety through inventions such as the first railroad crossing gates (Mary Riggin) and a maritime navigation system using pyrotechnics (Martha Costen). The article recognizes Rebecca Lukens, who greatly improved safety conditions at the Lukens Steel Company iron and steel mill that she owned and managed until 1847, and Emily Warren, the chief engineer during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1872–1883.

Leading Decisively

The trails blazed by these enterprising women are now championed by a new generation of women in safety. Today’s women are advancing safety protocols in medicine, transportation, government, and even outer space. Women like Elizabeth Dole, who successfully implemented the mandatory third brake light on all passenger cars while serving as the first female U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and Hilda Solis, the first Hispanic woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of Labor who lobbied for stricter safety regulations and penalties for those who violated wage and hour regulations (ASSP, 2019).

As Director of Safety and Human Performance at Lewis, I am excited about the advancements in safety that are taking place in our company and across the sector. A balanced blend of compliance and human performance (HP) shifts us from a blame-based culture to a learning organization that drives continuous improvement. As a female safety leader, I see significant benefits to this holistic approach to safety and firmly believe that compliance and HP have a place in every department, not just in the field. In the same way that we implement HP tools on jobsites to mitigate risks, we have the opportunity to leverage the tenets of HP to reduce financial, compliance, and technological risk across the entire organization.

Together, women in utilities are improving and innovating company-wide safety narratives that adopt a comprehensive view of safety, integrate the principles of HP and DE&I, and provide a safer space for all. With women holding leadership positions across the sector, the horizon is big and bright for women in UVM and safety.


Valentic, S., “Women in Safety: How to Attract, Retain, and Develop a Diverse Workforce,” EHS Today, September 27, 2019.

Women’s Achievements in Safety,” American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), March 8, 2019.