Antoinette Johnson-Peart - A matter of safety


Monday, November 26, 2018

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ANTOINETTE Johnson-Peart is not only the safety, health and environment manager at Nestle Jamaica, but she is also the quality, security and general services manager. What does this string of titles mean? It means the she has to be omnipresent at Nestle — from ensuring that safety standards are being met in the warehouses to giving a presentation to a group of students in the offices.

As she sat down with All Woman in 'The Nest' at the Ferry, St Andrew complex, she tucked her high-visibility safety vest into her helmet, and slipped her wedding band and charm bracelet back onto her manicured hands.

“My job is really just getting it done and moving onto the next thing, because I always want to know what's gonna happen with the other thing,” she said.

“At Nestle it's very fast-paced, and the deliverables are always stretched, and always changing. But I like it. It keeps me moving, and it keeps the job exciting.”

Though gender roles are being redefined, it is still uncommon to find a woman wearing the tough boots in a warehouse, and even rarer to find her at the head of the operations. Peart has had her share of judgement.

“I've had technicians come here asking for 'Mr Peart'” she laughed. “Or even going as far as verifying with a male counterpart whether the information I have given is correct.”

But she says that she gets mixed reviews from her colleagues.

“You do have the ones who are liberal enough to say, 'Ok here comes the female, and she is on my level, she is my equivalent, just another gender'. And then there are others who, when I come to a project meeting or go to a part of the site and try to speak to somebody about fixing something, they think that I am the assistant.”

While she had always been interested in the sciences, Johnson-Peart confessed that even after completing her second degree, she was not aware that a field such as safety, health and environment management existed.

“I wanted to be a gynaecologist,” she reminisced. “It was a good enough mix of biology and chemistry, which were my favourite subjects. It was when I went to university that I was introduced to environmental biology, which was a completely different creature, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a little bit too much, because I got accepted to medical school and turned it down.

“I didn't get introduced to safety, health and environment until I actually started working, having completed another degree,” she grinned. “My first degree was in zoology and biotechnology, and my second degree was natural resources management, after which I got another second degree in occupational safety and environmental management.”

After completing her bachelor's degree, Johnson-Peart's first job, interestingly, was in a bank, where she stayed for nine months. It wasn't until she was pursuing a course for her first master's degree in Barbados that she became cognisant of the fact that she could branch off into the area of safety, health and environment management.

“That is when I realised that there was something else I could do apart from being a 'tree hugger' as they called us.”

Johnson-Peart spent a year in Barbados while doing that course, and it was a life-changing year for her. Not only was it her first time being away from her family and having to learn how to survive on her own, but she says it was also a stark contrast to the culture that she was used to in Jamaica.

“I had to learn how to cook in Barbados,” she said. “But it was a very good learning experience. I went there on scholarship so I had to learn how to manage my finances. I had to ensure that my bills were paid, and basically keep myself alive. It helped me to appreciate our quality of life in Jamaica, and the levels of exposure we get here in, I daresay, the northern Caribbean, because our influence from the United States is very strong.”

Barbados was a gateway to the rest of the Caribbean for Johnson-Peart, so when she returned home at 23 years old, she came back with a love for meals from various Caribbean islands and a new sense of resilience and self-sufficiency. She still, however, wasn't sure of her career path.

“When I started working in my first job in this field, it was at a resort. I actually applied for a project management job, but when I went there the HR manager said they also had an opening for a safety, health and environment officer, and I took that job instead.”

She stayed at the resort for a year, and then moved to Sandals, where she was a part of the management team. But being a city girl at heart, she moved back into the Corporate Area after she came to visit a friend who told her about an opening at her job. That job led Johnson-Peart into the pharmaceutical sales arena for five years.

“That experience, along with my Sandals experience, helped to bolster the skills that I had before. I was travelling a lot and interacting with a lot of cultures, and still had to make sure that we got things done safely anyway.”

After travelling extensively and living in The Bahamas for three years, she returned home and got engaged to Ryan, with whom she is now celebrating seven years of marriage. She started at Nestle in 2016.

At 39 years-old, Johnson-Peart loves her job because it is dynamic.

“My job evolves a lot. I get to experience something different, something new. The level of excitement and involvement that I get from working in the different areas keeps me going.”

A workday, she said, can last anywhere between eight to 15 hours, so Johnson-Peart is very grateful for her husband, who she says is also very driven, and is very supportive.

They have no children yet, and she confessed that they are both workaholics. When they manage to pull themselves away from work, though, they take road trips with another couple.

“I read a lot. I read anything non-fiction. I also binge-watch Netflix,” she laughed. “I also like to exercise.”

Her parents, who raised her with four other siblings, are two of her greatest role models, she said.

“They taught me what a good marriage should look like, and that you can still be upset with somebody and love them. [It was] my mother, particularly, because she came from a family of 15, and she is self-made. She is a working woman who moved from the rural area and put herself through school, and eventually started a very successful business. She did all this while being wife, mommy and aunty to everyone,” she said.

When asked what of the future, she quipped: “I want to be filthy rich and a woman of leisure!” and giggled.

“Having children would be the next most treasured experience,” she said soberly. “When I do start my family I want to have time to be with my family. We work really hard now, and we have to fight to get the time to enjoy what we work for, and I don't want to teach that to my children. I want my children to have a full family life.”

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