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Managing Diversity and Inclusion

The fire service continually hears about the importance of diversity and how important it is to an organization and its community.

However, even with the diversity message being clearly delivered, there’s still a huge gap in the reality of diversity implementation.

Time and time again, we hear about department and community discontent over the treatment of the diverse groups that make up our fire departments.

So we must ask, are members who make up the diverse population in our departments being included in growth and professional development activities?

It’s understood that the fire service is a civil service organization, but it’s important to understand that at the end of the day, it’s also a business and should to be looked at as such.

For a business to be successful, it must be consistent with the growth of its community. While many fire departments have successfully increased diversity, some departments are still plagued with issues.

Besides recruitment efforts, it’s important to understand that managing diversity should include education and training, career development and mentoring programs to increase and retain members.

To further increase and expand on the advantages of having a diverse department, inclusion should be part of the management of diversity and should be integrated into a department’s strategies, processes and procedures.

The term diversity has many facets and meanings. Webster’s defines it as “a state of unlikeness” or “the condition of being different,” which should include individual, groups and cultural differences.

In spite of its many possible meanings, at the end of the day, diversity should be an inclusive process.

Unfortunately, some people still attribute diversity to legal, gender and minority issues, which can hinder an organization’s growth.

Along with defining diversity, it is important to also define inclusion in this discussion.

Just like the diversity, inclusion has many possible definitions.

However, one definition that stood out is “the extent to which individuals can access information and resources, are involved in work groups, and have the ability to influence decision making-processes” (Roberson, 2006).

Make sure that members of diverse groups recruited to represent your organization do just that—represent in valuable ways.

Inclusion and diversity should focus on the emotional IQ of individuals and ensure that individuals feel and know they’re a part of critical organizational processes that value input.

For diversity to be fully appreciated, it should be collated with inclusion, for inclusion represents a person’s ability to be respected and allowed to contribute freely to an organization (Roberson, 2006).

In a nutshell, diversity should not stop at the recruiting and hiring phase, but should continue throughout an entire career.

It’s one thing to prove that your organization is proactive in diversity recruitment, education and fair treatment, but how inclusive is your organization or your diversity-management approach?

Know the difference between having a diverse workforce and having an inclusive one:

  • Are all employees and members accepted and treated as insiders in their workplace?
  • Are they valued and respected as members of the department?
  • Have obstacles been removed to allow full participation and contribution of each and every member you’ve recruited?

Nothing’s worse than having members dread coming to work in either your department or command staff, asking what value they bring and why they’re there?

It can’t be emphasized enough how much influence leaders have on their organizations. Leaders set the tone for success or failure of an inclusive diversity program. Some of the questions that all leaders should ask themselves include:

  • Do I truly understand diversity and inclusion?
  • Is my organization truly supporting diversity beyond recruiting and hiring?
  • If a climate survey was taken among my members, what would the results be?

Diverse groups should be represented in your department’s work groups, such as your inspector, arson, dispatch and training groups. Do these group members feel valued, supported and respected in your organization?

So it’s extremely important to understand there’s a huge difference between having diversity in your organization and having inclusive diversity that includes, capitalizes, respects and encourages the talents that diversity brings to an organization.

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