If you hadn’t noticed, this week marked International Women’s Day 2016 (8 March). The campaign theme this year was #PledgeForParity, a call to speed up progress towards gender parity. It caused me to think about our service – in part I guess that’s the point of such days.
The Fire & Rescue Service doesn’t provide the best demonstration of gender parity does it? The gender mix in our own service in West Yorkshire is heavily male biased, and I know from my Twitter analytics that my followers are also mostly male – a reflection that the gender of many of those that follow an FRS tweeter are males from the service ? The story around the country varies slightly, but is fundamentally the same. On that basis I guess that many who read this blog are likely to be men. This presents an opportunity…..
I’m going to make the assumption that most of us get that women have as vital a role to play in our service as men do. We all get that don’t we? If you don’t get it, then where have you been? It’s 2016 you know!
I heard a challenge a year or so ago which, whilst quite simple in its own right has prompted me to think about the whole ‘women in the FRS’ issue in a different way. The question is this one – would you want your wife/sister/daughter to work on a fire station? I’ll limit the question to fire stations to make the point, but the challenge applies equally elsewhere in our service. My answer to the question, honestly, is that I’m not sure. I’m not proud of that, and I don’t think that the picture is wholly bad, but it’s not completely good either. I’ll qualify that by adding that I think many other professions have the same issues, but I’m most concerned about ours. So what can we do about it?
With most FRS currently in the middle of a recruitment freeze, we are not going to change the gender balance significantly any time soon. Of course I’m focussing on operational firefighter numbers here but that’s where the volume of our staff work. The time is right as we start to think about recruitment once again to do some work to make sure that our service appeals to women seeking a profession. This will be heavily influenced by what our service looks and feels like, and in the main this will be driven by how we behave and what we promote.
I asked Emily, our diversity and inclusion officer what more I could do as a senior leader in the service? Emily gave me a fact sheet, all common sense stuff really, and more importantly gives some ideas about what we can ALL do. I’ll share some of them with you.
• TELL other people that you believe in gender inclusiveness, and mean it. This is me doing it for all that read this blog.
• LISTEN to the experiences of women that you work with, and what it feels like to be a woman in the FRS. Don’t try and defend it, don’t try and explain it, accept it and think about it.
• Try and focus on any UNCONSCIOUS actions that you detect in respect of male behaviours that may diminish female colleagues – talking over, interrupting and the like. Challenge yourself and challenge others if you see it.
• Sexist jokes are corrosive in the workplace, and they have no place. Laughing at them or ignoring them are equally negative behaviours.
• Challenging another man’s masculinity by the use of words like ‘sissy’ and ‘whipped’ only serve to reinforce the gender differences.
• Words like ‘chick’ and ‘bitch’ are demeaning and have no place in our workplace.
• If you hear terms that your aren’t comfortable with, and I believe that we all know what they are, then challenge them. Would you want your daughter or wife to be the subject of them?
Of course these are just a few ideas, but they are easy ones to carry out. I can’t believe that any male can’t do these, even if it does make you stand out from the crowd a little.
I believe in all of this stuff, I know that there are many others that also do. I hope this blog may have gone a little way to convince any doubters. Our service will be a better, happier place for all of us if we can all work together better. I’ve focussed on one of the issues that makes us different as human beings, there are of course others. Out of all of those differentiating factors this is arguably the one where we have the greatest imbalance in our service. We live in a world that is approximately half and half in terms of men and women. I’d love to see a Fire & Rescue Service that looked the same.