The Hygieia Journey

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By ISSA Staff | June 28, 2023 << Back to Articles The Hygieia Journey

The origins of the ISSA Hygieia Network come from Greek mythology. Hygieia is the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness. She was usually depicted as a young woman in long robes, with the artists taking care to show a kind expression on her face.

Hygieia’s name, of course, lived on into the modern world. As the goddess who prevented illness, she gave her name to the word and modern concept of “hygiene.”

Named after this Greek goddess, the Hygieia Network is a signature ISSA Charity committed to advancing and helping women succeed in the cleaning industry. Let’s examine how this international community began.

The dawn of the Hygieia Network

Industry leaders Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay and founder of the Hygieia Network; Linda Silverman, executive chair of Maintex Inc.; and Meredith Reuben, retired CEO of EBP Supply Solutions, were interviewed recently by Jeff Cross, ISSA media director, to discuss the history and impact of the Hygieia Network in the cleaning industry. These three were original founders of the Hygieia Network, along with Lydia Work, president of American Paper Converting; Nathalie Doobin, CEO of Harvard Services Group; and Holly Borrego with ISSA Facility Services.

Becoming a leader in the cleaning industry has had deep personal significance for Kadri, raised in Morocco by her grandmother, who worked as a cleaner and taught her the importance of cleanliness and hygiene for health. Kadri eventually entered the cleaning industry herself and learned that 70% of cleaners worldwide at the time were women, and 17% were illiterate, like her grandmother. She dreamed of creating a curriculum of support and training for female cleaners and building pride in the industry as a valuable career for women.

Kadri reached out to Silverman and Reuben to join her in starting the Hygieia Network, which they named after the Greek goddess of hygiene, cleaning, and health. “We knocked on ISSA’s door and said, ‘Can you host this initiative?’ and it started this way from making soap to saving lives,” Kadri reflects. “It’s one of the achievements and the journeys I’m most proud of in my life.”

The Hygieia Network was officially launched as an ISSA Charity in 2016. Reuben recalls that the initial response was profound, validating their sense that women in the industry needed visibility and connection. Today, the network has grown to nearly a thousand members. Silverman notes that this has benefited ISSA as Hygieia draws women into the organization, showing them a pathway to leadership and providing the tools to get there.

Hygieia’s vision is for women to actively choose careers in the cleaning industry because of unparalleled inclusiveness and advancement opportunities. Kadri reflects that her own success is the result of mentorship and support from first her grandmother, and then from professors and colleagues who believed in her. One of her goals with Hygieia is to pay that forward to other women through mentorship, education, and networking programs.

Not just a women’s issue

Although the Hygieia Network is about supporting women in the industry, men are involved as well. Silverman notes that: “Men are necessary. I think we need everybody to promote women in the business world.” Hygieia also has an allyship committee focusing not just on women, but on helping everyone from diverse backgrounds to have a seat at the table.

Kadri asserts, “Leadership has no gender, no nationality, no skin color, no religion. As a leader, I don’t define myself primarily as a woman. I’m a businesswoman, I’m a CEO first and foremost, but at home, I’m a spouse and a mother.” She adds that a good leader, regardless of gender or origin, needs empathy and the ability to connect and invest in people. “We need more men and more majority supporting the minorities in top jobs.”

Reuben adds that from the beginning, men have helped to make Hygieia possible, including the initial support of John Garfinkel as ISSA’s executive director and the ongoing support of current executive director John Barrett.

Industry trends

Hygieia was recently involved in the McKinsey Women in the Workplace study, which found that the flexibility of hybrid work is instrumental in retaining female employees. The study also found that health and safety, both physical and emotional, is another top concern among women.

Silverman notes that in addition to child-rearing responsibilities, the burden of caring for aging family members also typically falls more heavily on women. She believes companies can attract women by creating a culture supportive of employees balancing all these responsibilities.

“When women thrive in a workplace, the companies are actually more successful, so there’s a business case for it as well,” Silverman says. And it’s important not just to attract women to entry-level positions but to ensure advancement through the levels of management. “Companies that have a higher percentage of women in leadership, it’s shown they are financially more successful, and people appreciate the culture.”

Kadri adds that “at the end, [we are] one of the industries which is employing the largest human capital in the world. It’s about humanity, and I think we need to care.” Kadri advocates for building loyalty and development programs: “You can go from bottom to the top, to CEO role, and become an entrepreneur like many have done around the world, and that’s what I love about the hygiene and cleaning industry—everything is possible.”

Hopes for the future

Reuben: “I would like to see our industry be seen as important […] and that women and all people of all backgrounds are welcomed in our industry and see it as a place where they have pride and where they can develop a very excellent career.”

Silverman: “I think we are on the way to achieving our vision. […] I see the women that are involved, I see the tremendous amount of talent, the enthusiasm, the competence, and I believe we are going to see many more women in roles in our industry.”

Kadri: “Diversity is what you see; equity is what you do. It’s important that we go back to the heart of inclusiveness to build a culture in which each employee feels empowered to speak out and speak up and bring their whole self to work. […] What I would like people to do is to join the Hygieia Network, join these beautiful driving forces to make the world a better place to be in and to work in.”

You are encouraged to get involved, utilize the ISSA Hygeia Network, and support the incredible women of this organization. You can do this by becoming part of the community, signing up as a mentor or mentee, and registering for upcoming conferences and webinars. Join the community now, and don’t miss the latest news and information. Visit today. 

For more thoughts from Kadri, Reuben, and Silverman, watch the entire interview with these three dynamic leaders below. 

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