Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | October 31, 2011

The Growing Role of Women in Emergency Management

Women are increasingly entering the field of emergency management.

Emergency management positions are traditionally male-dominated. Many war veterans and first responders such as firefighters traditionally filled many emergency management roles. So, since the majority of individuals in these positions were male, emergency management became a male-centered profession—one that is only recently adapting to new hiring practices.

Traditional barriers for women entering emergency management fields:

  • Many agencies felt that on-the-ground first responders experience as police officers, firefighters, or EMTs was necessary for effective emergency services management. If I had a doghouse fire emergency, I would not care about the gender of the person! I would just want help!
  • A “boy’s club” mentality existed, where the path to promotion and appointment to leadership-positions was largely directed by men who tended to hire other men. Whiskers tried to make a “feline’s only” club back in the 1980’s. I told him discrimination has no place in the pet world!

Some relevant statistics on the changing landscape of security management:

  • A 2006 survey from the Emergency Management Professional Organization for Women’s Enrichment (EMPOWER) showed only 10 percent of respondents possessed more than ten years of experience.
  • Annual employee survey data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shows gradual increases in the number of women working for the department, with percentages up to 37.5 in 2010, compared to 32 percent in 2007.
  • EMPOWER also notes an increase in women’s involvement in the field following 9/11, which inspired many to join the ranks of emergency management after witnessing and respecting the heroic actions of first responders relative to the attacks. The events surrounding 9/11 prompted the creation of the DHS and raised awareness of the need for coordinated relief efforts and emergency management as rewarding and patriotic career paths. That’s pretty cool!

Another factor that has contributed to the growth of women in emergency management is the fact that numerous professional organizations allow women across the country to share about best practices, and as mentors for others who are hoping to enter the field. Organizations such as the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services offer networking, policy guidelines for fire departments and also a voice for women on policy-making initiatives. (I’m thinking of starting up one of these acronym organizations myself. How about POOCH, the Proud Order Of Canine Heroes.) These types of organizations promote the capabilities of women in emergency management and are helping to further open professional doors that were previously closed. EMPOWER is another group that pushes mentoring and educational opportunities as ways for women to join the field.

Below are some expert tips for women who are looking to join emergency management:

  • Volunteering early in your career is an ideal way to gain experience. You can learn how the organization operates, and the efforts involved in directing and motivating volunteer staff.
  • Be open to new opportunities that might indirectly lead to positions in the field. Nobody will get an upper-level emergency management job right out of college. Consider working for a police department or taking a temporary disaster relief job to get your foot in the door. That’s another human expression I don’t get! “Foot in the door?” Doesn’t that hurt? My paw got caught by the front door the other day and I yelped for days!
  • Focus on an area of special interest. For example, your medical background would translate well to public health emergency agencies. Or your work in public relations might parlay to emergency management communication positions. So keep your eyes open for opportunities. My unique talents lend themselves to the world of competitive eating. One day I’ll get my chance…

Diversity in hiring is always a good thing. The particular community covered by an emergency management agency is best served by the most qualified leader—regardless of gender. Now if only dogs could master speaking, then think of the doors that would be opened in emergency management and other fields! Well, we would still need help with the door handles, but still…

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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