Including Women in the Fire Service

A Strategy Toolkit for Fire Departments

Section 1

Introduction to Change

Diversity is not a problem to be managed, it is value added to your service. —Chief jona olsson

According to the recent FSWO study Insights from the Inside, Mills et al. (2020) confirmed firefighting is a male dominated occupation despite recruitment efforts. This is often due to the barriers that women and other underrepresented groups face when choosing firefighting as a profession. The study examined the experiences and stories of women firefighters from across Ontario using both qualitative and quantitative data. The study informs the development of this toolkit to assist fire departments in creating a diverse and inclusive fire service.



Diversity is:

  • The range of human difference, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identify, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs
  • The achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully
  • A diverse organization simply has a wide range of people. This may include varied representation based on education, age, religion, gender, race, marital status, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin. It accurately represents the community that it serves.


  • Involves and empowers employees
  • Sustains a sense of belonging
  • Values and respects the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of life of its members
  • Gives employees equal opportunity to thrive, contribute, and be successful


Achieving diversity in the absence of inclusion places the organization at risk of tokenism: the practice of making only a symbolic effort by hiring a small number of people from an underrepresented group to give the appearance of racial/sexual/gender equality within the workforce. By comparison, an organization that is inclusive values the backgrounds and strengths of its workers while supporting and building upon their talents. Inclusion includes asking members of underrepresented groups, such as women, what can be done to maximize their work experience by respecting and honoring worker human rights.

Building an inclusive work culture is key to achieving and creating workplace diversity. Inclusion goes beyond using numbers as a measure of success. It fosters and promotes a culture that gives employees a sense of belonging and connection. Inclusion empowers workers to speak up and share their ideas. Inclusion “makes employees feel comfortable and valued” while also making them more productive since a welcoming workplace “cultivates a culture of accountability.”

Diversity and inclusion is not a zero-sum game. In fact, diversity and inclusion efforts often have the opposite effect of benefitting all members of the fire department. By making specific efforts to include those traditionally underrepresented or marginalized, all members can reap the benefits of a more harmonious, respectful, and empowering workplace.

What influences fire service culture regarding diversity and inclusion:

  • PERCEPTION: How members perceive the treatment of women firefighters against their male peers. Are female firefighters scrutinized more or less harshly; are they regarded as an inconvenience for requesting female specific gear; or are they hired solely to achieve the perception of a diverse fire department?
  • HIRING BIAS: How members perceive there to be a hiring bias towards women, leading to the perception of lost work opportunities or growth.
  • EQUITY vs. EQUALITY: How members understand the difference between equity and equality. Equity refers to treating individuals with fairness whereas equality refers to treating everyone the same. Equity is based on the need or requirement of an individual (e.g., providing equipment that fits the size and shape of the firefighter) whereas equality does not examine the requirements of an individual (e.g., all firefighters are given the same standard pair of gloves).

Source: Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire

  • MICROAGGRESSIONS: How members may not recognize microaggressions, or the degree to which they exist in the workplace. Microaggressions are a form of harassment commonly experienced by women and other underrepresented groups that are difficult to pinpoint due to their subtle and indirect nature. Examples can include exclusion from activities and conversations, or constant pointing out of differences. Although microaggressions are not an overt threat, they are dangerous in that they can adversely impact an individual’s morale and sense of belonging and negatively affect their work performance.

  • OPENNESS TO CHANGE: How members react or accept change, and the degree to which your service is open to culture change. Does deference to tradition hinder or advance your fire service? Does your department continue to do things the same way because it is the way it’s always been done?

  • QUESTIONING ABILITIES: How members question the abilities of female firefighters; are women in your fire service treated as if they are not competent, or singled out during training evolutions? Are women in your fire service passed over for crucial assignments on the fireground; or receive less support from their managers, or access to their senior leaders? Are women in leadership mistaken for someone in a more junior position?

2Best Practices

Get Ready for Change
Every organization undergoes change. Organizational change means changing organizational components to improve the effectiveness of the organization. Organizational components consist of mission, vision, values, culture, strategy, goals, structure, processes or systems, technology and of course, people. When organizations choose to change, they choose to enhance their effectiveness, and increase their ability to generate value for those they serve. In many organizations, changes in existing systems are necessary to implement effective diversity and inclusion policies.

Understanding the Need for Change
While looking at your fire service and considering change, it is essential to understand where it is today and moving towards in the future. When conducting an organizational analysis (size-up) it is vital to understand the internal and external forces affecting change. Organizations interact with their environment and this is very much true with the fire service as it has a significant public image. These interactions can be complex and dynamic. When undergoing a size-up, consider not only internal forces affecting change, but also those of the external environment including the public and public perception, the workforce or talent availability, location and proximity to different infrastructure that makes up for the built environment your fire service is servicing.

Managing Personal Transitions
A key aspect to managing change is to understand where others are in the change cycle, and to lead and help others through personal change. For many, going through organizational change can lead to stress, trauma, and unsettled feelings. Everyone will go through the process of change feeling bruised, disenchanted, and de-motivated. Be cognizant of the transition curve or coping cycle to understand how your team responds at an emotional level. Not all individuals will pass through the curve sequentially or through each of the seven steps. It is possible that many will become stuck in a step, requiring you to have strategies in your toolkit to assist with the change. Remember, factors such as personality, personal circumstances, or effects of organizational change can have on an individual will affect their attitude towards change, and their individual responses

Source: Balogun and Hope-Hailey, Exploring Strategic Change, 2004

The seven stages measure the peaks and valleys in confidence and competence against time (Balogun and Hope-Hailey, 2004):

  1. Shock: the initial feeling when confronted with the inevitability of change, and loss of self confidence.
  2. Denial: individuals have not come to full terms of change and what it means to them.
  3. Awareness/incompetence: the realization that change is inevitable, and it will affect them.
  4. Acceptance: when letting go of the past is possible.
  5. Testing: identification of new behaviours and testing them out.
  6. Search for meaning: understanding the assimilation and learning.
  7. Integration: the integration of new behaviours into everyday work practices.

Strategies for helping people through the transition curve

Stage in the process


Shock and denial

  • Coaching / mentoring
  • Emotional support
  • Communication to enable mental preparation
  • Involvement and information sharing
  • Understanding the transition process


  • Factual information about the change
  • New goals/targets
  • Anticipating failing performance levels
  • Allowing expression


  • Focus on short-term goals
  • Rewarding new behaviours
  • Training/development
  • Enabling risk-taking
  • Leadership

Search for meaning/integration

  • Rewarding success

Source: Balogun and Hope-Hailey (2004).


How to Develop and Implement the Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan
It is uncommon today for an organization not to have a strategic plan. When departments develop their strategic plan, they follow standard steps to ensure their plan describes its organization’s future direction including its performance targets, and approaches to achieve said targets. A typical approach to develop and implement a strategy is defined in the following segments, with templates available in Section 9: Appendix.

When working through implementing policies around diversity and inclusion, ensure your fire service aligns policies, objectives and targets with its vision, mission and values:

VISION STATEMENT is a clear and compelling goal that serves to benefit an organization’s efforts.
MISSION STATEMENT is an articulation of a view of a realistic, credible, and attractive future for the organization.
VALUES are the basic beliefs that govern individual and group behaviour in an organization.

Each section of this toolkit will lead through the following steps:

Step 1: Size-up with SWOT Analysis
It is important to be aware of threats and opportunities in the external
environment. To do this, you can scan and monitor the happenings of the
external environment including technology, laws, regulations, economy,
social-cultural factors, and changing demographics. The SWOT Analysis in
this section is an effective strategy to collect these details.

Step 2: Build a Plan with Objectives
Objectives are developed to achieve the strategy. They are an expression, in measurable terms, of what an organization intends to achieve, using the SMART acronym

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Relevant
T - Time-Bound

Step 3: Implement your Plan
Implementing the plan is the process of putting the strategy into action, also referred to as an operational plan. The implementation plan will typically include programs, budgets, personnel, and procedures.

Step 4: Evaluating the Plan’s Performance
Developing a strategy may not be difficult, however making it happen may prove to be more challenging. The ability to execute a strategy is an important criterion for assessing everyone within an organization. The successful implementation can be judged by the ability of the organization to meet its targets, and the ability to meet bench-marked ratios of efficiencies and/or effectiveness.

Step 5: Continuous Improvement
Based on its performance, improvement may be necessary and should be identified during the performance step. Consider your baseline position that you wish to build or improve. What benchmarks through your objectives were set? Use these to build your continuous improvement plan.

Step 1: Size-up with SWOT Analysis

Analyze your fire service against forces affecting change within the organization. This means analyzing your fire service in consideration of the external environment. To do this, you will want to understand your starting point to appreciate the changes necessary for creating an inclusive fire service. The SWOT Analysis is a typical tool used for this exercise as discussed below. See the Appendix for a template.

A fire service has the responsibility to:

  • Reach the highest level of performance standards by assessing skills and representativeness of its staff.
  • Dispel the myth that the fire service is lowering standards when hiring underrepresented candidates.
  • Understand how diversity and inclusion initiatives can create a robust fire department reflective of the communities it serves.
  • Understand how these diversity and inclusion initiatives can polarize the workforce if they are poorly executed. For example, fire services that use a quota system to hire more women may cause women firefighters to face lifelong stigma of not having rightfully earned the position or being fully qualified for the job. It may also cause male firefighters to become less supportive of diversity and inclusion policies.
  • Understand that well intentioned initiatives can create conflict, discomfort, and resistance at an individual or organizational level. To reduce diversity-based conflict, fire service leaders should establish a process for conflict reporting, take appropriate action if there is unacceptable behavior, and provide ongoing diversity and inclusion training.

SWOT (Strengths / Weakness / Opportunities / Threats)
A SWOT Analysis is used to assess your fire service’s current position, assisting with the development of a new strategy. It is an important exercise allowing you to leverage your strengths, identify weaknesses, while minimizing threats, and taking advantage of available opportunities. It will assist you in understanding what is working well, and what areas require improvement. The tool will help by asking difficult questions, working through where you want to go, how you might get there, and identifying any possible barriers.

SWOT: Facilitate a Meeting
A SWOT Analysis requires the input of information from different stakeholders. Conduct a facilitated meeting to brainstorm elements of the SWOT Analysis (Strengths / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats). It is important to have ALL Stakeholders available as this will create buy-in. It is also important to have a senior Leader available either to kick-off the meeting, and preferably to stay throughout the exercise as long as s/he does not create a threatening environment. Details captured in a SWOT Analysis should be unaltered, and preferably captured by a trained facilitator who can elicit information and clarify details where necessary. It is important to understand the audience and the detail of information captured.

SWOT: Meeting Ground Rules
Before conducting a facilitated meeting be sure to set appropriate ground rules. It is not uncommon to have varying opinions resulting in heated discussions. It is good practice to set ground rules and anticipate any unruly behaviour, ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak, while not feeling threatened, objectified, or not having a voice.

Possible ground rules can include:

  • All items are to be placed in the SWOT chart unaltered
  • Attendees must be considerate of all opinions
  • Obscenity will NOT be tolerated
  • Consensus will be met by ---- identify a method (e.g., all agree, majority agree?)
  • Time allocation limits

SWOT: Considerations for Facilitated Meetings
Be sure to consider everything, including barriers, biases today and any biases anticipated in the future.

CONSIDERATIONS – brainstorm topics/themes that apply to your fire service:

  • What has already happened?
  • What is happening now?
  • What will continue to happen without intervention?
  • Does the fire department have specific policies in place aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion?
  • Does the fire department engage with diversity and inclusion initiatives within the municipality and in the fire service sector?
  • Does the fire department take proactive steps to create a workplace free of harassment, discrimination, and stigma?
  • Does the fire department engage in peer-support programs, team-building activities, and work-recognition events that specifically recognize efforts at diversity and inclusion?

STRENGTHS (INTERNAL) - brainstorm applicable strengths within your fire service:

  • Existing specific policies / procedures
  • Existing committees / task force groups
  • Extended parental leave for adoption

WEAKNESSES (INTERNAL) - brainstorm applicable weaknesses within your fire service:

  • Limited training budget
  • Lack of policies
  • No diversification

OPPORTUNITIES (EXTERNAL) – brainstorm applicable opportunities outside of your fire service:

  • Sponsorship for provincial training and development
  • Provincial financial awards for hall improvement

THREATS (EXTERNAL) – brainstorm applicable threats impacting your fire service

  • Bad publicity from the community
  • Poor attendance of public open houses

SWOT: Complete the SWOT Analysis Tool
Based on the discussion, complete the boxes:

Helpful to achieving objectivesHarmful to achieving objectives

SWOT: Identify Themes / Patterns from the SWOT Analysis
Once the analysis is complete, identity themes or patterns in each of the squares. Depending on the number of themes or patterns, it may be necessary to prioritize. In the example provided, under internal drivers two possible themes exist: (1) Lack of resources leading to outdated policies; and, (2) Staff not willing to learn, perhaps from attitudes of senior staff. Once themes or patterns have been developed in each of the areas, you are able to build a plan or strategy on how to deal with the barriers or issues. You can begin to leverage the strengths and opportunities against the weakness and threats. For example, when looking at the sample, even with a lack of resources and outdated policies, one can make a case that the external factors – the wider community - are expecting change. One can also suggest with a strong membership in FSWO there may be the possibility of leveraging resources, including a library of policies that may be adopted into practice.

Every SWOT Analysis is different depending on the organization’s circumstances. However, it is a useful tool to assist with directing change and creating a platform for requesting resources.

NOTE: If group sizes are large during facilitated SWOT analysis, perhaps move into smaller teams when creating themes and reconvene to gain consensus.

See Step 1: Size-up with SWOT Analysis template in our Appendix.

Step 2: Build a Plan with Objectives

Objectives are an expression, in measurable terms, of what your fire service intends to achieve. Objects consist of goals, either hard (measurable with a number), or soft goals which are more related to social conduct and not always quantifiable. Where possible, create goals that are action oriented and specific.

Use the SMART acronym when identifying your fire service goals. They should be:

  • SPECIFIC - Who, What Where When, Why?
  • MEASUREABLE - How can you measure it? How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal?
  • ACHIEVABLE - Do you have the skills and resources required to achieve the goal? If not, can you obtain them? Is the amount of effort required on par with what the goal will achieve?
  • RELEVANT - Why am I setting this goal now? Is it aligned with overall objectives?
  • TIMEFRAME - What’s the deadline? Is it realistic?

See Step 2: Build a Plan with Objectives template in our Appendix.

Step 3: Implement your Plan

Implementing your plan is the process of establishing the programs, budgets, and procedures for facilitating the achievement of your fire service’s goals. For example, if the goal is to increase the hiring of women and members of other underrepresented groups into your fire service, what are the steps for achieving this goal? Will your department require infrastructure modifications? What will the impacts to the culture be? Strategic implementation becomes the process of putting your plan into action.

Considerations with an Implementation Plan

  • Will my plan achieve the outcome I am looking for based on fire service vision, mission, values and objectives?
  • Were the right people at the table when developing the plan?
  • What will become permanent?
  • How will I document these changes? (e.g., policy)
  • How can I share these improvements with other divisions, departments, and agencies?
  • How does this inform a new planning cycle?

Outlining the Programs:
Programs involve the steps and activities necessary to achieve the goals. If the goal is to hire two (2) women firefighters, what steps are necessary for recruiting, selecting, training, and creating an inclusive culture to accomplish this goal?

Outlining the Budget:
The budget helps to list the detailed costs of each of the programs, along with identifying how the organization will allocate its financial resources to meet the goals. It is prudent to establish a hurdle rate, recognizing a percentage of return on investment necessary before implementing a program. You may require the assistance of your Human Resources Department to assist with the development of preparing budgets for the implementation of some new programs.

Outlining the Procedures:
Procedures are the step-by-step process required to get the job done – actioning your plan and meeting your objectives.

Outlining those Responsible:
When building an implementation plan it is imperative to identify all responsible parties. It is not necessary to identify people by name, however, use a position title at a minimum. If you are comfortable or it’s necessary to use a name, then add the individual’s name to the plan.

Outline the Timing:
Any implementation plan should have a timing component. The timing will hold those responsible to meeting the strategy objectives. It is not uncommon to have multiple times allocated to different people. For example, HR may be responsible for advertising within 15 days, meanwhile, a Fire Captain may be responsible for hiring within 90 days.

See Step 3: Implement your Plan template in our Appendix.

Step 4: Evaluating the Plan’s Performance

Developing your strategy is easy, however making it happen is another story. A successful implementation is based on the ability to meet your objectives, while being on-time and within budget. A balanced score card is one approach to evaluating the success of a plan, however, for your fire service you should consider other success indicators including community satisfaction, employee engagement as examples. Measuring performance is tied back to your fire service’s vision, mission, and value statements, while meeting the objectives of your strategic plan.

Performance Scorecard
The performance scorecard is one method to measure your plan’s success while aligning it with your fire service’s overall vision, mission, values, and plan’s objectives. To be successful, it is important to have a baseline to measure success.

Baseline Measurements:

  • Number and composition of fire service today
  • Number and composition of leadership
  • Number and composition of past recruitment campaigns (past 5 years)
  • Number and composition of past hires (past 5 years)
  • Number and composition of terminations (past 5 years)
  • Number and composition of training and development program, including approvals / success rates

Considerations for Evaluating Your Plan

  • Did you achieve the outcome you wanted in the initial plan? According to who?
  • Have you involved the right people? Have you involved enough people, or too many?
  • What will become permanent? How will you document changes (e.g. policy)
  • How can I share these improvements with other divisions, departments, and agencies?
  • How does this inform a new planning cycle?

See Step 4: Evaluating the Plan’s Performance template in our Appendix.

Step 5: Continuous Improvement

Thus far, we have walked through the steps of building a strategic plan while looking at your fire service’s vision, mission, values, and objectives. Based on its performance, improvement may be necessary and should be identified during the performance step. Consider your baseline position that you wish to build or improve. What benchmarks through your objectives were set? Use these to build your continuous improvement plan.

Benchmark considerations:

  • Lead. Lead by example, starting from the top (aka walk the talk)
  • Recruit. Ensure that firefighter recruitment processes and pathways are barrier free.
  • Hire. Ensure that hiring processes are fair, equitable, valid, and reliable.
  • Develop. Ensure all firefighters have equal access to training opportunities (e.g., work on a squad) and fire stations (e.g., are women only placed in stations where there are appropriate facilities?).
  • Identify. Recognize when an employee is affected by lack of diversity policies or programming and create an action plan to reach a solution.
  • Promote. Those who are promoted (especially at the senior management level) must hold the right competencies. Enable mechanisms to ensure there is a system to manage checks and balances. Invest in leadership training during the promotional process.
  • Accommodate. Have accommodation frameworks in place.
  • Uphold. Understand legislation and enforce legislation and follow best practices. Better yet: create even better practices to set the bar higher.
  • Educate. Provide training opportunities and programs in areas such as bias training, officer development (including conflict prevention and conflict resolution).

See Step 5: Continuous Improvement template in our Appendix.



How To: Create a Diversity and Inclusion Vision Statement

Organizations typically have their vision, mission, and value statements viewable for all to see. When considering change within your fire service, the language used should offer a sense of purpose and seeks out opportunities for growth. A fire department’s diversity and inclusion vision statement should be inspiring.

Recruitment campaigns should include your statement at the end of the post. At the very least, job postings should include a subheading with a link to your full diversity and inclusion statement on your website. Candidates want to work for a fire service that mirrors their values and beliefs.

Examples of possible vision statements:

We envision a fire service where its members reflect the diversity of stories and people found within its community.

Our fire service has a supportive and open climate where diversity and inclusion are key assets.

Our inclusive fire service encourages diversity of thought.

Our fire service values being different together.

Our fire service attracts and retains top talent and reflects the communities we serve.

Examples of possible examples of mission and value statements:

MISSION: To protect and serve, while enhancing public safety by building a diverse and inclusive fire service

Alpha fire service’s success begins with and endures because of our inclusive team.

At Alpha’s fire service, teammates take the initiative to do what needs to be done and assist other teammates to achieve the highest results.

Alpha fire service is committed to honesty and doing the right thing.