Assistant Editor, IFSEC Global

February 22, 2022

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“We need to actively encourage diversity in the fire sector, and I believe that starts with encouraging diversity of thought” – In conversation with Andrea White

IFSEC Global talks to Andrea White, Fire Engineer and Managing Director at A W Fire, about her background in the fire sector, the steps she believes the industry needs to be taking in order to continue embracing gender diversity, and her hopes for the future of the Women in Fire Engineering Networking Group.

Andrea White, Fire Engineer and Managing Director at A W Fire

Andrea White has worked in the fire industry for just over 20 years, with experience spanning across fire safety enforcement, consultancy and insurance. She is a Chartered Building Engineer with the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) and an Incorporated Engineer through the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE). In recognition of the voluntary work she has carried out in recent years, she is proud to be a Fellow of the IFE.

“Like many people, I didn’t set out to work in fire safety. My original career plan was to work in forestry, with my first degree being in Timber and Wood Science.”

After completing her degree, Andrea made the decision not to pursue a career in forestry, instead remaining closer to home and beginning a career in building and estate management.

“It was there that I began taking on health and safety responsibilities in the premises I managed. I studied for the NEBOSH Diploma and, in 2011, I became a Chartered Member of IOSH.

“Being dually qualified in fire safety and health and safety is incredibly useful. I think a lot of people tend to move from one industry to another, but there’s not many of us who are qualified in both diciplines.”

In 2007, Andrea became a Member of the IFE whilst working for Hampshire Fire and Rescue as a fire safety inspecting officer.

“I’d just completed my Higher National Diploma (HND) in Fire Safety Engineering, and I could see the importance of working towards memberships and accreditations as a way of demonstrating competence. Fortunately, I have a love for learning! My aim is to provide high quality fire safety solutions.”

Currently, around 7% of IFE members are women. Within the higher grades, this number reduces, with only 2% of IFE Fellows being female.

“20 years ago, when I first came into the industry, I was the first and only female inspecting officer among 60 male officers. At the time, it was unusual to see other women in a meeting or conference room filled with several hundred men.

“Over the past five years, percentages of women members have increased within the IFE to 7%. I’ve also recently stepped down as Vice President of the IFE Southern Branch, which now has two women on the Committee, and we currently have Hayley Burgess on the IFE Board of Trustees, recently replacing Kristen Salzer-Frost. These are all positive steps, but I wanted to create a support network to build on this and encourage and inspire women within the fire industry.”

The formation of the Women in Fire Engineering Networking Group

In early 2021, Andrea approached the IFE with the vision of creating a support network for women.

She went on to form the Women in Fire Engineering Networking Group (WIFENG), of which she is currently Chair.

“I am so grateful to Jo Tedd, Member Experience Manager at the IFE, she was willing champion my idea and help to ‘make it happen’. Without her I’m not sure I’d be sitting here talking to you about WIFENG.”

Today, the WIFENG LinkedIn group has 400 members.

“We’ve got a really active committee of volunteers. We’ve organised a monthly webinar program for this year – our first session took place in January and was led by Parina Patel – who gave an excellent presentation on her career as a Fire Engineer.

“Keen to support member progression, WIFENG recently organised a series of online workshops to help individuals complete their IFE Member application forms, with two of those attendees having been successful so far.

“The next thing we’re organising is a workshop for members wanting to complete their Engineering Technician accreditation application forms – completing this process alone can feel rather daunting.

“WIFENG has some amazing support from a number of male advocates, some of whom have helped mentor applicants and others who have sponsored webinars. We are delighted to have men as members of WIFENG who subscribe to our ethos and are willing to offer their support to women in the industry.”

In October, the Women in Fire Engineering Group supported London Build 2021, providing them with a number of women speakers and hosts to provide expert insight for their fire safety stage.

“They were looking to improve diversity amongst their presenters which was a fantastic initiative to improve visibility for women fire safety professionals.

“We need to actively encourage diversity, and I believe that starts with encouraging diversity of thought. As an industry, we need to get better at constructive challenge, we need to be more willing to consider other people’s perspectives and come to a collaborative consensus.

“Teams with a wide pool of experience and perspectives create better quality solutions. What’s key is ensuring that each of those views are heard, acknowleged and appreciated.”

This year, Andrea is also both attending and hosting a discussion at the Tall Building Fire Safety Conference, which takes place at FIREX International 2022 at London’s ExCel between 17-19 May.

“I’ve been to the conference before and Russ [Timpson] does a fantastic job in putting together a high-quality programme.

“Obviously with my background in wood, I’m always keen to talk about modern methods of construction and the current desire to create tall buildings in cross-laminated timber.

“It’s a great opportunity to hear speakers from all around the world discuss issues with other industry professionals – it’s an event where we can promote this concept of diversity of thought, encouraging constructive discussion amongst a broader group of individuals.”

Register your interest for FIREX International 2023

16-18 May 2023, ExCeL London

Connect with the fire safety community at FIREX International 2023. You'll find hundreds of leading exhibitors from the active and passive fire sector, showcasing all the latest in fire protection, prevention and detection solutions. Plus, network with thousands of peers and likeminded professionals, while attending dedicated conference sessions covering updates in legislation, technology and building safety from leading figures in the industry.

Make life safety a right, not a privilege — register your interest to keep up with the latest, today.

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