I have been in the Fire Service for almost 30 years and the Fire Service I joined in 1989 is very different from the one I work in today. There has been a real culture change at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS) and I certainly feel we are moving in the right direction when it comes to diversity. However, there is still much to do.
Where Have We Got To?
The Public Sector Equality Duty Report 2018/2019 highlighted that women represent 20 per cent of the workforce, accounting for 181 employees, while men represent 80 per cent, with 710 male employees. In operational roles this is significantly less, with female colleagues representing only 5.9 per cent of the workforce. Fifty-one per cent of the county of Derbyshire is female and DFRS is ultimately aspiring to reflect this figure in our workforce. In terms of ethnic diversity, the most common ethnicity amongst our workforce is ‘White British or Irish’, followed by ‘Asian or Asian British’, ‘Any Other White Background’ and ‘Mixed’ heritage. The BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) profile of operational staff is 2.4 per cent (16), which is a slight increase when compared to the previous year.
Regarding the underrepresentation of women, positive change has begun and I am pleased to say that DFRS is currently ahead of the national average. However, we know we cannot stand still on this, we have to keep moving forward to increase the awareness and diversity of our workforce, knowing the service as a whole will benefit from this.
On a personal level, and as part of the Diversity and Inclusion team, we still have women asking us if they are able to become firefighters. There will hopefully be a time when that question is no longer asked, when the Fire Service is a natural career choice for anyone who wishes to join the UK Fire and Rescue Service.
To get to that point though, there are steps that need to be taken at DFRS to make a positive change for equality, diversity and inclusion and increase the overall diversity of the service.
Almost 100 Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service staff, from chief fire officer to appointing officers and heads of department, have attended the learning programme
“There has been a real culture change at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service and I certainly feel we are moving in the right direction when it comes to diversity”
What Are We Doing?
We have recruited over 40 positive action champions from across the service, who work as role models, alongside operational crews, members of the fire service and our fire authority members, working hard to raise awareness of DFRS as an inclusive employer of choice. These champions attend events in schools and within the wider community, focusing on broader aspects of recruitment and raising awareness amongst our communities, including females, minority ethnic groups and LGBT+ who are under-represented in our workforce.
Another example of positive action is our work with RightTrack Learning who are experts in diversity and inclusion and who have facilitated tailor-made workshops designed to support the drive towards our vision for a more diverse working community.
Almost 100 of our key staff, from chief fire officer to appointing officers and heads of department, have attended the learning programme. The training event explored equality, diversity and inclusion and how our unconscious biases impact these in the workplace. We specifically wanted the training to:
- Increase understanding of unconscious bias and how it can impact on the interviewing and candidate selection process
- Increase the level of competence and confidence in relation to interviewing skills
- Help cultivate and embed a consistent, organisation wide approach to interviewing
- Develop understanding of the filters through which we view and interpret ourselves and other people in the context of recruitment and selection, as well as day-to-day interactions
- Develop an understanding of how unconscious bias can adversely affect judgement and decision making and negatively impact on all interactions, including selection at every stage of a recruitment process
- Understand what micro inequities are and how they can influence performance and decisions
- Learn how affinity bias affects rapport building and the effectiveness of a recruitment interview.
“We truly believe we cannot be what we cannot see, so to this end, we actively encourage firefighters to go into schools and communities and talk about their own positive roles”
All in all, this interactive development programme has already enabled those who attended to appreciate that once awareness of bias is raised, from the unconscious to the conscious level, attitudes and behaviours can change. But most importantly, individuals can seek to contribute to a positive fire and rescue service culture, whilst undertaking our operational duties and interacting with colleagues and the wider workforce.
So, with these various positive action activities and a focused drive for improvement, I am pleased to say we are starting to see results:
- Overall there has been a significant increase in applicants, with 358 invited for interviews and 146 appointments made
- Ninety-five per cent of all applicants feel confident to disclose their sexual orientation, including 95 who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or other
- 7.5 per cent (118) of all applicants stated their ethnicity as other than white British
- Female applications across all roles have increased from 25 per cent to 37 per cent
- Women now account for 30 per cent of all successful applicants.
We truly believe we cannot be what we cannot see, so to this end, we actively encourage firefighters to go into schools and communities and talk about their own positive roles within DFRS.
For more information visit: www.righttracklearning.com