A gender quota has been enacted by Fire and Rescue NSW. But what happens when not everyone is on board and at what personal cost are these women entering the service?
In December last year, this year's crop of new recruits at Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) entered the service. Fifty per cent of them were women.
The gender quota is part of a bold move to change the face of FRNSW, which has historically been described as a ‘boys club’.
Applicants are now split into male and female streams and an equal number of the highest scoring men and women are chosen.
That is to say, a male applicant who ranks in the 51% percentile of his gender stream will miss out on a job because of the gender quota – even if he got a better score on his tests than a female applicant.
But with investigations into sexual harassment and bullying of female employees within FRNSW, is the workplace culture prepared to accommodate more women?
A Damning Review
A 2010 KPMG review of workplace culture within FRNSW found that:
“Sexual or suggestive remarks, emails and letters were a particular issue among females…”
“Discrimination based on gender is still a major issue within the brigades…”
“There is a pervading “Boys Club” mentality within the organisation with a lack of support networks in place for female firefighters.”
Despite the Review’s findings, by 2014, little had changed. So the then Commissioner, Greg Mullins, put all staff on notice.
In 2015, more than a dozen firefighters came forward with allegations of harassment and bullying.
These complaints gave rise to the Boland Report, an independent inquiry launched in 2015.
And just this year, a top NSW fire official was charged with raping a young female firefighter after a Christmas party. He is currently awaiting trial.
The new gender quota has opened the door for women who may not have ranked high enough under the old recruitment process.
On her third birthday, Genevieve received a plastic firefighter’s hat from her mum. Ever since, she has dreamed of being in the service.
In 2009, Genevieve was unsuccessful in her application to join the service. But she applied again this year and now she’s living her dream at Sydney Fire Station.
“I think that the only thing that's gonna taint people's opinion of women in the job is how the women approach the job. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty I think men will be very accepting
But not everyone is welcoming of the the new initiative. Rachel Cowling is among the dissenting voices.
“I think there will be some backlash. I think it will put a lot of stress onto these young women that they probably don't need.”
When Rachel was 20, she was one of just 30 applicants in a pool of 5,000 -- nearly all men -- to be recruited into the Victorian service.
Rachel is now 33 and remains firmly opposed to a quota system. Along with her female colleagues, Rachel signed an open letter to the Ministry for Emergency Services decrying the quota. Together, they took the battle to the Victorian court.
“It made me feel nervous for the future girls of our organisation because [men] are going to say, ‘did you get in on the one that was a bit easy? Or did you get in with all the guys?’ I just want everyone to be equal.”