FIRE 20/20 News and Resources
FIRE 20/20's monthly eNewsletter delivers inspiring articles, thought-provoking interviews and useful tools for Fire/EMS personnel, and those considering a career in the fire service. Topics are oriented around diversity recruitment and retention.
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05-17-11 -- We all have blind spots, both physically and metaphorically, that prevent us from seeing the full picture. This applies not only to individuals but also to organizations. Only when we recognize that we have them and identify what they are can we find ways to see around them. Let’s take a look at some aspects of diversity and inclusiveness that may elude us because they lie in our blind spot. These are intended to serve as starting points for your own conversations about blindspots and diversity.
By Fire Chief Ruth Obadal (Ret.)
- BLINDSPOT: You assume there are no problems with members of your organization mistreating other members. Why? Because no formal complaints have been received? How about digging deeper to learn the real situation? Listen to the chatter in the organization. Ask people directly. Take a survey. Get involved in discussions about the workplace. Pay attention. You may be surprised.
- BLINDSPOT: You assume that members of a particular ethnic group in your community would not want to be firefighters. Why? Because they have never applied. But do you really know that? Perhaps if they knew they could do the job and they would be welcome to try, you might get a different answer. Perhaps it’s time to communicate with members of that group to find out.
- BLINDSPOT: You find that some female recruits struggle to operate some of the department’s equipment, so they must not be capable of performing the job. Are you certain of that? Maybe it is a training issue, and a more appropriate technique could be applied. Or perhaps there is other equipment that could accomplish the same task but could be handled more easily by women or anyone of smaller size. Explore the possibilities before writing someone off as incapable.
- BLINDSPOT: Your department primarily uses word-of-mouth recruitment with good success, as there is never a shortage of qualified applicants. Really? Define “good success.” Organizations tend to replicate themselves, since members typically associate with and recruit people who are like themselves. As the EEOC puts it, “While word-of-mouth recruiting in a racially diverse workforce can be an effective way to promote diversity, the same method of recruiting in a non-diverse workforce is a barrier to equal employment opportunity if it does not create applicant pools that reflect the diversity in the qualified labor market.” While casting a wider net may take more effort, in doing so, you may reach potential applicants who would otherwise be missed.
These are only hypothetical examples, of course. But the point is that, in order to see around our blind spots, we need to look below the surface, question our own assumptions, and continue to seek more information and adopt better practices. It is sometimes said, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Even more importantly, you—and your organization—can’t improve if you think you have done all you can do or that everything is just fine as it is.