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Creating equal opportunity in the fire industry: simple tactics, huge impact 

Sarah Dixon, Enterprise Sales & Commercial Director UK&I at Johnson Controls, comments on the opportunities that lie ahead for women in the fire industry. 

A recent survey carried out by the Home Office found that only 8.2% of firefighters employed by the FRA from April 2021 to March 2022 were women. Positively, the report did show an increase in female talent year-on-year. But now we need to capitalise on this progress and ensure we don’t lose momentum when it comes to equal opportunity in 2023 and beyond. 

To increase opportunities for female talent, we need to change the way we think about equity. Stakeholders must see it not just as an ethical win, but as a decision that can provide clear financial gain too. That’s because greater diversity of thought tends to promote imaginative approaches to problem-solving within the business. It also fosters improved collaboration; eradicating siloes across teams. This is imperative for all industries, but especially the buildings industry, which is often disjointed and could benefit from such synergy. Actionable strategies and doing away with the ‘tick box’ will be key for any significant cultural change.

Ditch the rule book and show people how change will benefit them

Getting the human factor right is the key to success. The more positive, supportive, and collaborative your culture is, the more likely it is that your teams will exhibit and promote behaviours that will help underpin new culture. To really change behaviours, businesses need to demonstrate their determination to drive the change through building workforce buy-in. Doing this effectively requires serious investment in strategies and people. Management teams can take charge of the design and delivery of a change programme, but an emphasis needs to be placed on each employees’ role as an agent of change. If they don’t feel like they’re part of the change or if there’s no emotional connection to the message, it’ll be impossible to champion the change across the business.

What’s in it for me? All of us battle to find enough hours in the day, so if you want to impact real change you must show the workforce the benefits for them. It’s dull and unengaging to share instructions or lengthy insights in technical language. There is no reason why change must be tedious or uninspiring. Instead of a lengthy booklet which sets out rules and regulations in technical language, why not grab the opportunity to tell people how much time they’ll save or how much personal impact they’ll make by making a few simple practices part of their new working day.    

Behaviour change starts with a positive mindset

Businesses need to start by clearly mapping out which skills and competencies will drive organisation-wide change and clarify which key behaviours will fuel this change. Understanding the drivers of change informs a myriad of things: from recruitment processes to more collaborative ways of working and the implementation of an accountability framework.  

This top-down mindset shift ensures you’re well-positioned to involve teams across your whole operation. This has numerous benefits in terms of sharing knowledge and experience, but it also enables all teams to drive forward and play their part in delivering the company’s new vision.

Change cannot be actioned without understanding; it’s said that those that know do, but those who understand teach. Businesses must therefore make it their mission critical to create the environment where such behaviour can flourish. It’s not about hand holding, it’s about creating a positive company culture, where good behaviours can grow. Going forward, success will hinge on leaders’ abilities to help the workforce change their practices, in turn changing the culture. 

Education, learning resources and opportunities for teachable moments that can engage everyone at any level are invaluable too. An organisation should encourage teams to have open and frank conversations where they can freely share their thoughts and feelings. The journey to success and the best points of contact for support need to be clearly signposted and employees must have confidence that support is available. Success relies on the engagement and emotional connection employees have with the values your business is building into its culture. If you haven’t got that, you haven’t got a culture change programme. 

Be clear and don’t overcomplicate it

Without clarity in communication, any programme for change becomes meaningless. You need to foster the right collaborative culture and open channels of communication to drive forward any initiative.

What’s the point of a brilliant idea, without the right strategy in place to communicate it and win over hearts and minds? Take your workforce on that journey with you by setting out your vision and their key parts to play in plain English. Businesses should be leveraging the strengths of their communications teams too for greater impact. 

Success lies not in being prescriptive or punitive but in motivating people to take the action you want them to without even noticing it. The ‘don’ts’ in life are infinite and impossible to retain. If you tell people the ‘dos’ – the simple actions which will have a real impact – they’re more likely to get on board with the programme. 

Encourage your team to learn by doing

At the end of the day, we aren’t working in the fire industry because we are women. We’re all here because we are passionate about creating safe and comfortable spaces for people to live in.  We all learn by doing, and to truly enact change across the industry, education is our most powerful tool. Create teachable moments for employees, so they can understand from a ground level how change will impact and benefit them.  

So, what practical changes have we made over the past few years? We’re making considerable progress in encouraging female talent to join our industry. From October 2020 to July 2021, our female hires jumped from 23% to 32%, over a period of seven months. So, imagine how much progress could be made in the long-term. Our diversity and inclusion team are working to educate people managers on both the ideological and financial benefits of equity in the workplace. And we’re also working to encourage equity in the wider community by providing financial support to smaller businesses who are keen to diversify their talent pools.

Businesses across the world are pledging their commitment to inclusion. For such pledges to be meaningful, your organisation needs to go back to the very beginning. Ensure that diverse thinking is used to underpin decisions, rather than being tagged on as an afterthought. Equipped with this ‘ground-up’ approach, as well as willingness to learn and education initiatives, the potential for significant change across the fire industry is extensive.

Sarah Dixon

Enterprise Sales & Commercial Director UK&I at Johnson Controls

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