This piece in the Harvard Business Review is a couple of weeks old, but it’s still making the rounds on social media as people confront the idea that it’s a problem that the overwhelming majority of firefighters are white men.

Author Corinne Bendersky notes that a very small percentage of firefighters’ time is spent putting out fires; most calls to which they respond are medical emergencies — situations in which some female compassion could come in useful.

Bendersky, a professor at UCLA, writes:

To succeed as a firefighter, stereotypically masculine traits like brawn and courage are simply not enough. Firefighters also need the intellectual, social, and emotional skills required to deliver medical emergency aid, support each other through traumatic experiences, and engage intimately with the communities they serve. In short, successful firefighters embody a complex mix of skills and traits. And yet, in my research on reducing gender bias and my work conducting training on general diversity and inclusion with fire departments, I find that, when evaluating fit and competence, firefighters tend to default to a reductive set of traits (physical strength evaluated through strict fitness tests, for example) that serve to maintain white men’s dominance in the fire service.

And forget about the number of openly gay men who serve as firefighters.

Little people. Let’s keep it PC.


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