Imbalance creates challenges – but great opportunities

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always got – so we changed things.
South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (SWFRS) and Fire and Rescue Services across the UK have been historically white and male.  In 2017 they continue to be, with women representing less than 11% of our entire workforce; with that great imbalance comes great issues and challenges. 
For such a public facing part of the public sector, the entire SWFRS team (and our colleagues in Fire and Rescue teams across the UK) are very aware of how important it is that we reflect the communities we work with and serve every day. In its simplest terms, having people who are ‘like you’ come to help when you need it is just better for everyone.
So in Wales we decided to try something completely outside the usual public sector box. 

What we did

First things first, it’s vital to start at the beginning. We started by looking at the data on who we have (and don’t have). We also took time to consider what we have done that hasn’t worked in the past and stretched ourselves to think about new ideas.
Once we had looked at all of this information, we developed five main objectives and developed a blueprint plan which established the business case for trying ways of attracting new and more diverse talent.
Equally key was the active participation of staff from across the Service at events, in videos, across our new website stories and with logistics. One unintentional benefit of the project was the satisfaction staff had at being involved in a project which was innovative and fresh. 
At the end of the project, we
  • Ended up with a impactful ‘Together’ campaign video that gives a different view of the Service
  • Published staff stories on our website (including for LGB)
  • Increased engagement with women and others from under-represented groups by 300% through targeted positive action days
  • Had a group of trained and engaged sessional workers
  • Constructed a foundation to take the fundamentals of the project forward
One project doesn’t fix everything, but it can be enough to change the course of diection.

Doing something different

This is why our involvement with events such as Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend are so important to increasing the awareness of the Service as an employer of choice; somewhere that offers career opportunities for everyone. So that we are no longer seen as just a white male environment. 
Our appliance from Cardiff Central was involved in the parade and every year we receive an encouraging response from everyone who is enjoying the event. It was fantastic for our crews to be involved with such a public statement from the SWFRS that equality and diversity matter to us as an employer. Getting different people involved in an event like Pride can be challenging – especially since we have to always balance our operational commitments, but we are committed to making a positive change and to helping communities in South Wales see that SWFRS is working to encourage LGBT and other under-represented groups to get involved and become part of the our community. 
There is a long way to go and we know that just being part of Pride is only a small step, but we are continuing to work towards creating an organisation that is more than just white men. What is important for the whole team is that we understand, as an employer and as an organisation that works closely with communities, that everyone can have a place at SWFRS if they want it – it isn’t just for one kind of person – and everyone can have the chance to represent the communities we serve. 
Carey Wood is the Diversity Officer for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and leads the diversity and engagement activity for the Service.