“Disruptive strategies” will be employed to combat the sexist boys’ club culture in Australia’s fire and emergency services and increase the number of women in frontline and leadership roles.
This will include calling out behaviour that creates an unsafe environment for women and applying a “gender-balance, diversity and inclusion” lens to recruitment and decision-making, a review of 29 fire, parks, wildlife and emergency organisations says.
Only 22 per cent of workers overall, and 7 per cent of managers in frontline services, are women, according to a progress report by the Male Champions of Change group.
The report calls for action to make sure such organisations — with nearly 300,000 staff combined — attract and retain more female workers.
It also notes an exclusionary or “boys’ club” culture.
Such strategies will help them meet a commitment to increase women on policy and leadership forums to 30 per cent by the end of next year.
“Many of those consulted … reported facing cultures and systems not always geared to support them, while others still experience everyday sexism, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace,” Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner Kristen Hilton said.’
She said women needed to be made welcome, advertising needed to be more inclusive, and harassment and discrimination not tolerated.
Ms Hilton said that male-dominated, homogenous and hierarchical organisations tended to have “a higher tolerance for discrimination and harassment of women”.
These include more flexible work practices, an analysis of recruitment ads to include women and challenging sexist assumptions from senior managers to local station bosses.
“We heard the workforce is looking for a more inclusive style of leadership that ensures welcoming, safe and respectful environments for all,” she said.
“This includes supporting people to call out behaviours that are out of step with modern workplaces and, in some instances, harmful.”
Ms Hilton said the assumption women couldn’t handle frontline roles was “shifting significantly”.
Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Council chief executive Stuart Ellis agreed the traditional roles of firefighter and emergency service responder were changing.
“In order to meet those expectations and access the best talent, we need to debunk the prevailing stereotype that the best people for these jobs are men,” he said.