Jane Henry’s story, as the founder and CEO of SeeHerWork, begins as a Division 1 Collegiate Athlete where she learned clothing and equipment matter when it comes to performing at a high level. Yet, as she says, “I spent 15 years in the oil and gas industry dealing with ill-fitting PPE, I never thought much about it as we all just accepted it.” It wasn’t until Hurricane Harvey hit Houston when she was forced to use the gear on a day-to-day basis for four long months while waiting for the insurance check show up. In those moments, Henry found it difficult to maintain a grip with the extra 1” of material at the tips of her unisex small gloves while using an angle grinder, swinging a sledgehammer, and hauling debris. The extra force and frequency required to manage around ill-fitting PPE made each day exhausting. She also found it difficult to source workwear that wasn’t made of abrasion resistant materials leaving her with cuts that required constant attention to avoid bloodborne pathogens.
SeeHerWork isn’t her first business. Her career began as a consultant with Accenture. During which time, her “entrepreneurial addiction,” as she calls it, became too strong to resist. She decided to leave consulting and become the transformational business leader she is today. She founded Xcution in 2002, a company specializing in Organizational Change Management and Executive Coaching. Between 2010 and 2015, Xcution was consistently recognized by the Houston Business Journal as among the top ten of Houston’s Fastest Growing Businesses. Later she was recognized as National Innovator along such noted figures as Jay-Z for Beats by Dre on Business Journal’s Inaugural Upstart 100 list.
Knowing what it takes to make a startup successful, she took her idea to Rice University where she was completing her MBA. Her goal was to research the breadth and depth of the issue. The results were too game-changing to ignore. Henry found data from the US Bureau of Labor Statics stating that women in construction and extraction careers where closer to receiving equal pay – Link. A key question arose, why weren’t there more women in these potentially lucrative careers? The painful answer surfaced when she unearthed a 1999 National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report and a 2016 Mt. Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health stating that there are no standard test for Fit Compliance and PPE is not designed for women - 1999 NIOSH Report and 2016 Study Summary. As stated in the 2016 study, the “Barbie-fied” work gear impacts safety and productivity.
To progress with her goal, Henry made it a habit of walking into hardware stores to talk to the women. Quickly, she received invites to come to speak to more women. Enjoying sewing as a hobby, she ended up making gloves that she would take to the ladies for their feedback. They loved what she made!
Henry knew she was on to something when the women would run up to her at the sites and say, “can I try on THE glove.” The employers started to catch on and invited Henry to speak with their most seasoned female professionals. In each session, she started with the same question, “What do you think about Women’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?” In over 50 focus groups, the response was eerily the same.
Inevitably they would look to the “company rep” and ask, “may I speak openly?” With permission, the women would say “We are tired of this Pink-it and Shrink-it. We need stuff that works.” The women then went on to tell stories about duct taping their coveralls and pants given the extra material. They even spoke about completely ditching the PPE, because they needed to get the job done and the force and frequency required to make it work was not worth the harassment from their peers for not performing at the same level.
She even spoke to many younger women that are products of the STEM education programs and why they were not utilizing their education. Again, they just didn’t feel like they “fit.” Gasps would come from the room as supply chain, and safety managers would hear about the impacts and how something so simple seemed to be perpetuating the myth that women are not suitable for civil, commercial and industrial careers.
Today, Henry enjoys watching women gain confidence when walking in looking professional and ready to work. Their male counterparts engage them differently creating space for greater learning and increased productivity.SeeHerWork designs, manufactures, and sells workwear, safety equipment, and other job-specific products to keep women in civil, commercial and industrial careers safe and aid them in performing at their highest level. Women need properly fitted PPE to be safe. Besides protecting them from hazards, well-fitting products inspire greater confidence, allowing employees to feel strong and unrestrained while performing day-to-day job duties. Ultimately, together we will not only keep women safe but will also attract and retain more women into the civil, commercial and industrial industries.