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An Interview with Clara Demilew, Global HSEQ Manager

Read our interview with Clara Demilew, Global HSEQ Manager of Monjasa, where she discusses her incredible career and the challenges that she has faced.

March 2021

As part of International Women's Day, Astutis is highlighting influential women in the health, safety, and environmental industry. We aim to inspire our female audience by sharing experiences and insights from industry leaders. We interviewed Clara Demilew, Global HSEQ Manager of Monjasa, about her incredible career and the challenges that she has faced.

How did you start in your career?

I was born and raised in Colombia and left to study for a Master's degree in OHAS in the UK, where I met my husband. We relocated for his work to Australia and then Dubai, where I currently work for Monjasa as their Group HSEQ Senior Manager, with overall responsibility for HSEQ in 8 countries.

My professional experience covers oil and gas, utilities, energy, construction, and education sectors spanning 13 years between Latin America, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Both the Master's degree and my international experience have been instrumental in my career progress.

Why did you choose a career in health and safety? 

I chose to do a Master's degree in Health and Safety in London to take a fresh perspective back to Colombia: at the time, OHS was in its infancy in Colombia. Then I realized that no matter the location, I could make a difference in caring for people and ensuring that they return home in the same (if not better) condition that they arrived at work.

I chose health and safety because I believe I can prevent ill health and incidents. We spend so much time at work these days.  Even when not in a workplace, we are still connected mentally or physically (through our devices). I think it is important that we look after ourselves and each other because there is more to life than work. 

What are you passionate about the most? What drives you? 

I am passionate about life, practicality, and improvement. Maybe it is in my Latin roots but what I love about the profession is the never-ending efforts to make OHS more practical and a business enabler rather than a burden. It's fun and fulfilling, making the value in OHS more tangible.

What drives me is a combination of caring and respect for people, the environment and surroundings as well as my a natural instinct for improvement and challenging the status quo.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced in your career, and how did you overcome them? 

The biggest challenges have been:

  • Hostility in some male-dominated environments
  • Lack of confidence due to being young, inexperienced or English being my second language.
  • People that don't take me seriously because I am bringing a new perspective that can challenge their status quo. 

I have learned not to take things personally and to let results and actions speak for themselves. I also strive to celebrate the little victories along the way to give me confidence that I am moving in the right direction.

I do a lot of visualization and power posing when I am a bit doubtful or fearful around a meeting or topic. I also do a lot of preparation, reading, research, and rehearsal to know I have covered all the bases and can therefore relax before the meeting/presentation. 

What key achievements are you proud of in your career?

Gaining my Master's in a foreign language and country was a huge step for me and provided the platform for what has to date been a thrilling career.

Achieving a step culture change at a firm that initially had low HSEQ maturity and pockets of resistance. I was able to turn detractors into HSEQ promotors, and that is why I am in HSEQ in the first place.

Promotion to group HSEQ lead for an international company is a career highlight, and coping with a pandemic shortly afterward will certainly be something to look back on as a memorable period.

What female role models do you have?

My mum would be my biggest role model because of her strength and resolution to achieve and overcome hurdles no matter what others might think or believe. I have some celebrity role models like Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Serena Williams because I admire their eloquence, discipline, hard work, and decisiveness. 

Have any women been major influences in your career?

Throughout my career, Lou Roberts taught me to believe and trust in myself; she actually recognized the potential in me even when I failed to see it, cultivating my strengths and showed me that being bold is actually a good thing.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

  • To find a visible role model in the industry and talk to her, use her as a sounding board and advice.
  • Do not take others' opinions personally; they often reflect on their own fears. I should believe in myself and my hard work. I know what I am talking about.
  • Use underestimation as a benefit and opportunity.
  • Pick my battles; not every fight is worth fighting. 
  • Plant the seed in people's minds. Let them own the idea and concentrate on achieving the outcome.

What challenges do you feel that women face in your industry? 

  • Unconscious bias from both male and female
  • Lack of assertiveness in performance reviews leading to depressed salary and promotion opportunities.
  • Not being considered for positions and interviews for being a woman, too young, potentially going on maternity leave, etc.
  • Lack of visible women leaders/role models
  • Societal barriers such as lack of flexible arrangements or equal policies e.g. maternity/paternity leave 

Start your career

Do you want to start a career in Health and Safety? At Astutis, we have over ten years of experience providing NEBOSH courses, both virtually and in classrooms. You can all us on 0345 241 3685 or fill in our contact form here to start your Health and Safety journey today!

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