Diversity is about all of us in the fire service – it is who an organization is as well as who those in it are. The term is slowly becoming empty as many fire departments investing in diversity efforts are disappointed and confused by the results.
Inclusion is the perpetuation of diversity – the strategies and behaviors linked to how we respond to a diverse fire service. Inclusion is often connected to deep-seated beliefs or values of a traditional fire service; it is meant to encourage equal participation, recognition and opportunities to reduce discrimination, exclusion and hostile work environments.
So what about inclusion?
Inclusion in the fire service is about people being accepted, having positive interactions with one’s peers and being valued for who they are. For our younger workers, inclusion is not just about assembling the team, but also about connecting team members so everyone is heard and respected.(1)
When individuals feel that they cannot be themselves at work, they will not engage fully as part of the team or in their assigned work objectives. Therefore, for fire departments seeking diversity, inclusion must be internally motivated; members must embrace the belief that all people have value and the right to belong. Fire-department leaders must celebrate and utilize people’s differences to the benefit of the organization, not just tolerate them.
All firefighters want to be treated fairly and respectfully; have equal access to opportunities, resources and promotions; and contribute fully to the organization’s success. Mostly they want to feel included, which comes when members of the organization (at any level) consciously act to hire, work with, coach, guide, develop, relate, promote and retain individuals who represent a wide diversity of competent firefighters.
How do we become inclusive?
Progressive fire departments understand that the key to successfully leveraging diversity is to manage it well. These departments not only promote and celebrate diversity, but they also create a strategy for building inclusion with an underlying value of equality. By working with people from different backgrounds and with different experiences and working styles, they learn about and capture another, sometimes-different view. Diverse views make for better decisions and thus drive a high-performance culture.
An organization’s journey to becoming inclusive begins with two critical questions:
- What actions is my department taking to foster an inclusive workplace, where the uniqueness of beliefs, backgrounds, talents and capabilities are welcomed?
- How should we live inclusively together in our fire department and our stations?
Here are some attributes of inclusion:
- Putting inclusive values into action – Inclusive practices must be integrated into communications, training and education, career and professional development, recruitment and retention, and overall leadership and management practices.
- Viewing everyone as of equal worth – For real change to happen, every individual and leader must buy into the value that everyone belongs.
- Supporting everyone to feel that they belong – Creating a culture where every individual can contribute their full potential requires investigating the systems and processes in your organization to uncover sore spots and blind spots.
- Increasing participation – Teams that include intergenerational and racially diverse men and women stimulate new thinking, which leads to greater possibilities.
- Reducing exclusion and discrimination – These are barriers to hiring and promotions.
- Restructuring cultures, policies and practices – It’s important to create an environment where everyone responds to diversity in ways that value everyone else equally. Encourage everyone to embrace concepts of diversity awareness throughout your organization.
Diversity with Inclusion
Diversity without inclusion is a narrative of missed opportunities, of employees who are so used to being overlooked that they no longer share ideas and insights.
Many studies show that diversity alone doesn’t drive inclusion. In fact, without inclusion, there’s often a diversity backlash. Research on sponsorship and multicultural professionals shows that although 41% of senior-level African-Americans, 20% of senior-level Asians and 18% of senior-level Hispanics feel obligated to sponsor employees of the same gender or ethnicity as themselves, they hesitate to take action. For Caucasians, that number is 7%.
Sponsors of color, especially at the top, are hobbled by the perception of giving special treatment to protégés of color and the concern that the protégés may not make the grade. The result: Just 18% of Asians, 21% of African-Americans and 25% of Hispanics step up to sponsorship, but 27% of Caucasians do.(2)
A department that embraces diversity with inclusion has zero tolerance for favoritism, cliques and segregated groups based on hierarchical standing. These are departments where biases and prejudices are identified and addressed openly and honestly. When you stand up for inclusion, there is open communication about values, expectations are clearly stated, the policies are reasonably implemented and enforced, and all members are represented and have a voice.
How will you grow your department?