Struggles Experienced by Women in the Firefighting Career, in Pursuit of

Equal Treatment
Gender discrimination in the firefighting career, which is a male
dominated profession have existed since the 19 th century. The
discrimination has resulted in unequal treatment of women at all levels
of career development starting from recruitment staff development, and
promotion. This paper outlines the struggles that women who embrace the
firefighting career in fighting for equal treatment. Some of the
challenges that women face in their struggle for equal treatment include
public disapproval, lack of commitment from the policy makers, existence
of male dominated team leaders in the firefighting departments, and lack
of established organizations to fight for equal treatment of women
working in the firefighting department. The paper also demonstrates that
the suggested solutions to the challenge of unequal treatment among the
firefighting staff have failed because of the lack of integrated efforts
among the stakeholders in the firefighting sector. Strong organizations
and concerted efforts of all the stakeholders are some of the possible
leads to a sustainable solution.
Key words: Discrimination, equal treatment, firefighting, male-dominated
career, gender role.
Struggles Experienced by Women in the Firefighting Career, in Pursuit of
Equal Treatment
Gender disparity in the labor market has been a significant challenge
for many years. In most of the careers faced with sex segregation, the
norms originate from the traditional assumptions of gender roles in the
families. This means that the perception that some jobs belong to 
persons of a given gender is highly influenced by the cultural beliefs
and practices. In many cultural groups, tasks that required muscular
strength are usually assigned to the boy child, while the tasks that
require less muscular strength are assigned to the girl child. This
perception seems to get its way up to the professional platform, where
people choose their career based on the gender roles they played in
their families. However, most of the prevailing challenges are caused by
structural and administrative structures, which pose a lot of challenges
to women who are willing to pursue fire fighting as their career of
choice. Consequently, some careers (such as clerical jobs and service
occupations) are dominated by women while others (including operator and
craft occupation) are dominated by men (Simpson, 2004). Despite the
recent trends, which indicate that women are crossing the gender
barriers and venturing into men dominated careers, study shows that
there is still some gap between men and women in many occupations
(Silberman, 2003). One of the careers affected by gender disparity is
the fire fighting occupation, where men dominate at professional and
volunteer level. This essay will address the challenges and struggles
that women face in pursuit of equal rights in the fire fighting career.
The historical injustice against women in the fire fighting career began
in the 19 th century. Fire fighting departments in most developed
countries were established in the 19 th century. History shows that
rampant discrimination against women exists at different spheres
(Hulett, 2008). Molly Williams, the first woman recruited as a
firefighter in the United States of America was honored and considered
as a firefighter with an equivalent capacity to the boys. Several other
women such as Lillie Hitchcock have been honored for their efforts in
fire fighting, but their contribution has not resolved the aspects of
discrimination the fire fighting departments. Discrimination against
women begins at recruitment in the training schools where fewer women
are recruited than their male counterpart. The different forms of
discrimination proceeds even after during the training programs and
deployment. The study shows that there are only 3 % of women in the
firefighting career, a factor that makes firefighting the most male
dominated career in the United Kingdom (Lee, 2012).
Forms of discrimination against women in firefighting career and
struggles in overcoming them
Unfairness during the recruitment into firefighting department
Women in the fire fighting career face unfair treatment compared to
their male counterparts, but the most intriguing issue is finding the
appropriate means of fighting for equal rights. There are several forms
of sex-based discrimination that occurs at different levels, thus
limiting the number of women joining firefighting as their lifetime
career and career development of the few women who manage to join the
profession. First, bigotry in the firefighting sector is rampant at the
recruitment stage. According to Tai (2003) the firefighting is one of
the departments that have the most stringent recruitment in the
requirement process that often discourage women. Some of the
requirements can rarely be met by women. Some of the physical
requirements that results in unfair recruitment platform for persons of
both gender include the chest size (more than 86 cm when expired and
5-91 cm when inspired), physical height, body weight, level of
education, and color perception. Frankly, setting similar standards in
some specifications such as physical height and chest width present an
automatic discrimination against many women who cannot compete with men.
Moreover, both male and female applicants are administered with the same
physical fitness and strength test, where few women make it. A study has
shown that only 0.3 % female applicants in Tokyo and 0.1 % in Hong Kong
pass the recruitment test (Tai, 2003).
Several legal and policy measures have been tried in different countries
in an effort to reduce gender-based discrimination in the recruitment
process. Koeinig (2012) reported that civil groups have tried the legal
approaches fighting for reduced gender discrimination, but have failed.
This is because, despite the existence of legal measures (such as the
Civil Rights Act of 1964) to ensure fair treatment of persons of both
gender in all professions there are structural and talent management
systems that present pro-male biases. An incident reported by Koeinig
(2012) following the pressure based on the Civil Rights Act, the
firefighting departments in New York allowed women increased the number
of women shortlisted for recruitment test up to 90 women. The study
indicated that none of the women passed the physical test. The physical
fitness test includes lifting a 125-pound bag of sand and running up and
down the stairs (Tai, 2003). This implies that in women and civil rights
groups should now focus on changes in the recruitment protocols, in
addition to the legal measures, to ensure a fair recruitment process.
Unfair treatment in quest career development and promotion
Afflictions of women in firefighting department do not end at the
recruitment stage. The few women who succeed in the recruitment tests
are followed by sex-based discrimination continue to face inequalities
in different areas such as staff development and promotion. According to
Silberman (2003) the procedure and tests used in promoting the members
of staff in the firefighting departments are similar to the tests used
at the recruitment stage. The existence of administrative and structural
barriers limits the chances for women to get their way into the top
ranking positions in the fire fighting departments. This reduces the
competition and the bargaining platform for women because their advocacy
for fair treatment may be negligible.
The legal and policy measures that have been put in place to oversee the
gender equality in the developed countries have not made a
significant impact (Tai, 2003). While analyzing the issues and factors
that have resulted in a few women joining the firefighting department
and the limited number of women holding higher rank position in the same
department, Francine (2008) identified that most of the measure used to
promote gender equality are ineffective. The commonly used policy
measure includes the formation of commissions that oversee the reduction
in gender disparity, in recruitment and staff development, through
public education. In a critical review of the mandates of the Equal
Opportunities Commission formed in Japan Tai (2003) noted that the
commission is not allowed to evaluate the criteria of recruitment and
promotion in public dockets until a complaint is raised by the affected
parties. In addition, the act behind the formation of the commission
suggests that the Fire Service Department is not held mandatory to
consult the commission in exercise its duty of appointment or promotion.
This indicates that the efforts to instill gender fairness are done for
the purposes of formality, and there is no sincerity. An illustrative
case of ineffectiveness of the policy measures in bridging the gender
disparity in the firefighting departments was reported in Tokyo. In this
case, a woman who had been denied a post of the Station Officer was
declined on the basis that the job was so dangerous for a woman. Upon
reporting to the Equal Opportunity Commission, the commission alleged
that the complaint could not be substantiated on the grounds of
presenting evidence (Tai, 2003). It is humiliating to find that the
discriminated women cannot find justice by simply following the
established legal procedures.
Discrimination in duty assignment
The domination of men in the senior leadership teams of the firefighting
dockets is a significant challenge for the achievement of gender
fairness. Despite the efforts made by women to fight for gender equality
with the men-dominated occupations, there are several barriers that
prevent their progress in career development once they finally succeed
to get these jobs. Career development is achieved through training,
practice, and experience at work. However, the assignment of duties in
the firefighting services department is highly influenced by the
perception that women are incompetent. According to Catalyst (2012) the
top management teams, which are headed by men, engage men in the most
demanding tasks and learning programs while their women counterparts are
denied the opportunity to practice their knowledge. A similar study in
Los Angeles revealed that there are several firefighting academies in
the city, but women are discriminated from undertaking the programs by
prejudice. The study also revealed that women in the firefighting
profession in Los Angeles raised complain with respective departments,
but political and departmental leaders have shown concern about the
cruelty in both the fire academies and firefighting stations (Pelisek,
2008). This indicates that the men dominated leadership teams,
stereotype against women, and this poses a substantial challenge for
women to make any progress in the firefighting career.
Public disapproval of women is another challenge that limits the
attainment of equality in the firefighting career. The general
perception among the members of the public about the firefighting career
results in the assumption that the firefighting staff should be
superhuman in strength. Bindel (2012) reported that the public
perception has gotten its way into the minds of the feminists, who are
expected to advocate for equal treatment in the firefighting services
departments. When called to rescue the few women in the firefighting
careers, feminist responds that firefighters should be strong,
determined and with a no-quit mentality. This is a suggestion that women
have doubts among themselves, and some feel that firefighting is the
wrong career for women. This indicates the fight of self against self,
which presents a hopeless situation for attainment fair treatment in the
firefighting services department. Consequently, the discrimination has
persisted at all phases of fire fighting career.
Social organizations are indispensable tools in advocating for the
rights of the groups they represent. This is because professional unions
have a better bargaining power compared to an individual or a small
group of people requesting to be heard. Research shows that few
organizations for women in the firefighting career exist compared to the
male organization. According to Hulett (2008) there is only one female
organization (United Women Firefighters) that advocates for the rights
of female staff in the firefighting career, in America. There are more
than four men`s organizations (including the Columbia Association, the
Vulcan Society, and the Hispanic Society) that provide resources and
support to male applicants who join the firefighting schools and
firefighting stations (Francine, 2008). In addition, the United Women
Firefighters lack sponsors, a factor that results with limited resources
for preparing women for the recruitment exercise. Lack of resource
limits the capacity of the United Women Firefighters to cover all the
geographical regions and to evaluate the complaints raised by their
members in the firefighting career.
Affirmative employment has been proposed as the only sustainable
solution to the gender disparity in the firefighting career. This is
based on the assumption that fair treatment can be achieved by
increasing the number of women joining the firefighting career. However,
these proposals face opposition from the men dominated leadership teams
in the firefighting services department and policy makers. Team leaders
who oppose the affirmative employment assert that the action violates
the recruitment and hiring requirements (Pelisek, 2008). To this end, it
is clear that every action that appears to resolve the challenge of
unfair treatment in the firefighting department faces obstacle.
Unfair treatment in the firefighting career is an intriguing issue that
requires drastic actions that will ensure that women who join
firefighting as their career of choice can do so without facing
discrimination. All the stakeholders including the United Women
Firefighters, heads of the firefighting department, and other policy
makers should be involved in finding a lasting solution. This is because
the prevailing level of discrimination requires an all inclusive
decision. It is also evident that any decision or move made by an
individual body faces a lot of opposition from the other bodies. For an
instant, when the political policy makers decide on the affirmative
employment, team leaders in the firefighting service department feel
that the action violates the law. It is thus clear that concerted
efforts are necessary. In addition, civic education on the changing role
can be effective in informing the society that firefighting jobs can be
done by persons of any gender. The civic education will also help in
overcoming g the perceptions that firefighting career belongs to persons
of super strength.
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