Riskonet’s Özlem Emgen contributes to NFPA Conference in Las Vegas

Özlem Emgen, Riskonet’s partner in Turkey, played a role recently during the world conference for the National Fire Protection Association in Las Vegas, where she participated in a forum during one of the special event sessions. What was the topic and what did she have to share with the thousands of other conference participants? We asked Özlem about her experience.

09 July


What kind of event was it?
“The NFPA Conference & Expo is one of the world’s largest and most extensive fire safety events. It’s NFPA’s top annual event and the perfect opportunity to gain valuable insights, meet experts from the industry and learn about new products and solutions. A gigantic conference at the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre, with 350 exhibitors at a expo and thousands of participants, who can attend plenary sessions and more than 110 educational sessions and special events on the newest problems, challenges and trends in the world of fire and life safety and risk management.”

What is Riskonet’s relationship to the NFPA?
“We’re proud to be more or less NFPA’s liaison in Europe. My colleague Tom de Nooij is a committee member at the NFPA and we are both involved in the organisation of specific training courses and workshops for the European market.”

Which event did you play a role in?
During a special session entitled ‘Women in Engineering: The International View’, a two-hour session devoted to the role of women in engineering. A forum of four women from various countries talked, supported by a translator, about the position of women in front of an audience of around 250 people. I was asked specially to come to Las Vegas to attend this forum. It was a great opportunity to speak and to experience the conference from up close.”

 

“I think that teams that include both men and women – diverse teams in other words – make better decisions.”

 

What kinds of topics were discussed?
“For example, the limited number of women working in STEM professions in many countries, i.e. technical professions and jobs. We talked about what is being done in different countries to attract more women to these professions and sectors. But we also talked about the relationship between men and women in the workplace, unacceptable behaviour and how to deal with it. In addition, we discussed the work-life balance and how women can find that balance, including the possibilities offered by maternal leave. It was interesting to note the considerable differences in this area between countries. The session provided much insight about how working women, particularly in engineering, make it all work. It was an interesting meeting with a different content and set-up than many of the other ones, which were mostly technical and procedural sessions on fire safety aspects.”

Now that you mention it, how do you explain the fact that so few women work in fire safety and risk management in so many countries?
“The number of female STEM engineers is relatively low in Turkey. Fortunately, the government and private sector pursue a policy aimed at getting women interested in a technical career. It will take some time to change the current proportions. I’ve noticed that, after graduating, lots of women prefer an engineering job in an office to one in a factory or at a construction site. We also see few women in fire brigades, but that can be explained in part by culture. I think that lots of women don’t think it’s an attractive environment to work in. How can we change that? I’m afraid there is no cut-and-dried answer. I know that around the year 1930, the first two women worked in the engineering field in Turkey. On graduating, one of the woman said: ‘what should we do now?’ The other woman answered: ‘Whatever the men do’. In other words, the training requirements are unambiguous and women who complete the training can simply start working. If more women would do just that, the quality of the work would improve.”

Why?
“I think that teams that include both men and women – diverse teams in other words – make better decisions. They would then consider things more and weigh the pros and cons more because men and women approach situations differently. I think that women have an important contribution to make to the balance in a team on both the emotional and organisational levels. So, diversity is important.”

And what about the number of women in risk management?
“I encounter more and more of them, especially in Turkey, in executive positions! Women with a good engineering education who view risk management for what it is: a serious profession that supports organisations in estimating and managing risks. And an important part of the business operations of responsible, professional companies.”

How else did you benefit from the NFPA Conference & Expo ? 
“First of all, it was an amazing experience to be part of the conference as both a visitor and forum participant. I also learned so much, heard so many inspiring and interesting things and talked to people in the same profession… it was interesting, fascinating and enjoyable! I returned to Turkey full of impressions, knowledge and inspiration!”

Finally… did you gamble in the casino?
“Not my thing. I’m not a gambler. I stay on the safe side – which fits me better as a risk management professional, ha ha!”