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April 19, 2023


Lithium-Ion batteries. A guide to the fire risk that isn’t going away but can be managed


A female perspective on recruitment, retention and progression in the fire industry – Competing for a limited resource pool of talent

Here, Andrea White offers a perspective on why success in recruiting and retaining talent in the fire industry is about so much more than financial incentives in 2023. At a time when talent is at a premium, commitment to diverse, inclusive and equitable principles must be genuine to open up the sector to all the talent that’s available, Andrea explains.

AndreaWhite-23Last week, a friend messaged asking for my opinion. She had funding for two fire engineering apprenticeships… but no-one had applied. What should she do? she asked.

Most of us will be able to relate to this situation at present. The demand for fire safety professionals far exceeds supply, pushing salaries to unprecedented levels and creating opportunities for career progression to those with less-than-ideal levels of competence. So, what to do?

I suggest that perhaps we need to think differently, both at the macro and the micro level; both within our industry and within our own companies. After all, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

Perhaps now is the time for a rethink; to look at doing things differently; to consider different perspectives.

As I sit drafting this article, another friend phones. She recently started a job with a fire safety consultancy. After less than a fortnight, she has just resigned. I ask what happened: “It wasn’t the right place for me,” was the answer.

A week later, with the help of several friends in the industry, she finds a new employer and the fit is better. She is happy in her new workplace and she stays.

“The days of following the highest salary are gone”

I sense that the days of following the highest salary are gone; that individuals are now looking for more than just financial recompense and employer pension contributions. My teenager confirms that the next generation’s career priorities focus more on being able to make a difference than being able to make lots of money. He is also unwilling to tolerate a toxic work environment, unlike my own generation who were more accepting of negative company cultures.

Since I began working in our industry some 25 years ago, I have watched more women enter the fire safety profession – statistics now suggest that 8% of the industry are female.

However, take a deeper look and you will see that the disparities are more pronounced. Administrative roles are most likely to be undertaken by women, while director roles are most likely to be held by men.

Decision-makers can suffer group think if homophily – the tendency for people to seek out those who are similar to themselves – is at play. And will those decision-makers necessarily understand the wants and needs of existing and potential employs?

  • Can they imagine what the next generation are looking for in an apprenticeship?
  • Can they appreciate what dispensations the single mother needs to be able to be both parent and financial provider?
  • Can they offer a suitable interview environment to the neurodiverse candidate so they can best demonstrate their abilities?

Why does diversity benefit businesses?

In a job market where demand is outstripping supply, I suggest that companies must do all of these things to compete for a limited resource pool of talent. To do otherwise is to dismiss competent individuals and deprive the company of quality candidates, simply because they are different.

We are naturally drawn to people like ourselves. To be around people like ourselves is, in many ways, easier.

But difference has profound benefits. Different means diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of viewpoint.

Research has shown that diversity of thought equals better decision-making. More than that, though, just having diversity around the decision-making table, we also need a culture where differences of opinion are listened to, heard and valued; where constructive challenge and criticism is welcomed and not berated or ignored.

Without this, diversity is nothing more than superficial; it offers no benefit and only breeds mistrust.

Who has a voice in your business?

So what does your company’s Boardroom look like? And, perhaps more importantly, who on your Board does most of the talking?

Whose ideas are encouraged; whose input is warmly received? Who speaks wisdom yet is seldom allowed to finish their sentence? Are those who speak loudest necessarily the ones with the most insight?

At a recent women’s conference, I was surprised how many of my peers spoke openly about facing similar challenges to my own. How difficult it was to get a word in during meetings; being talked over or interrupted; a lack of confidence; unhappiness at having their credibility questioned simply because of their gender.

And then there’s the banter <sigh> – not entered into by all men but (by my calculations) something that affects almost all women.

It would be easy to see all this as a negative, but in the current job market it presents an opportunity for those companies who have the foresight to offer a more inclusive culture.

WomenTalkingFire-Logo-23Not just the diversity rhetoric or clever strapline on the corporate email footer, but encouraging and facilitating open conversations and opportunities to ensure that all professionals are valued for their contributions, supported to reach their goals and can be their best selves at work and at home.

Based on a number of discussions, it is clear to me that fire safety companies are keen to promote women into senior management and board positions. However, we need to provide the skills and equip more individuals for C-suite roles.

Women Talking Fire is collaborating on a Master’s-level qualification in strategic leadership specifically for women in the fire industry. Are you or your organisation interested? Get in touch.

About the author

Andrea White is an independent fire engineer and fire risk assessor with her own consultancy, A W Fire Ltd. She is founder of Women Talking Fire, an independent women’s networking group for the UK fire safety industry.


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