Empowerment reality check

Twenty years ago there were six principal officers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, today there are two. Something hasn’t worked; something isn’t working.

I have stated that white men of influence should say something meaningful and do something impactful, however difficult that may be.

Nazir Azfal, author of the Independent Culture Review of London Fire Brigade, articulated the gaping chasm of the shortfall when addressing the Asian Fire Service Association conference days before the release of the review. “How many chief fire officers are people of colour?” he enquired of the audience. The answer, of course, is none. “How many chief constables?” There was one, about ten years ago, he informed. Now there are none. “How many chief executives of the top 50 NHS Trusts are people of colour?” There’s one, although 25 per cent of the workforce are BME.

Positive action needs to be taken to ensure that people without the confidence, who haven’t had the even breaks, who haven’t had the level playing field, are empowered to move on. That’s the important part, being empowered.

Doing something to make a difference is imperative. We can talk a great fight but it’s about implementing initiatives such as Practice to Progress and intervening where possible. How else are you going to wield your influence? How do you make a difference?

Every organisation wants and needs to set themselves up as the employer of choice. New recruits need to be assured that they are able to progress with their personal development within the organisation. Are they able to inspire others to make a difference? People want to work in an envrionment where they feel wholly supported and are able to be their real self.

Basic principles are in play. There are fire standards, the leadership framework and the core code of ethics, but ultimately it’s behaviour that counts. Say something meaningful, do something impactful – it’s the doing that matters.

How do you as a leader assert your moral compass? How do you deal with that difficult situation, conversation? Have you had to call out bullying and harassment and inappropriate behaviour? What do you think about disciplinary action? Should you take the zero tolerance approach that London Fire Brigade are now adopting or should that have always been the case? How do you respond when someone says something inappropriate? How do you react if a loved one is in attendance? How do you intervene without humiliating the other person?

It is not straightforward but it is about proper leadership and it starts from the top and filters through the organisation so that the next candidate who walks in the door, the first thing they ask is not “how much do you pay?” – because they only want to do a few years and find somewhere else – they ask, “what’s this place like to work in? What are the people like? What are opportunities for me and people like me?”

The answer has to be that it is unequivocally for all sorts of people who are given all sorts of opportunities in a safe, enriching and empowering environment. That’s the empowerment reality check.

This column is based on extracts from episode 186 of The Firefighters Podcast: https://linktr.ee/the_firefighters_podcast

“Say something meaningful, do something

impactful – it’s the doing that matters”

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