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CFA lacks gender diversity: commissioner

EMERGENCY WORKERS: Carol McCormack, Sarah Wynn, Nicole Eames and Shelly Cowen at Lake Weeroona on International Women’s Day. Picture: GLENN DANIELSTHECountry Fire Authorityis amale-dominated, overly Anglo-Saxon organisation which needs to become more diverse,Emergency ManagementCommissioner Craig Lapsley says.

The comments come as Mr Lapsley attended an International Women’s Day event in Bendigo on Sunday to celebrate women’scontribution to the emergency services.

There is one female career firefighter in Bendigo and she is one of eight women in the state – a small numbercompared to about 1000 male career firefighters.

Mr Lapsley said these career firefighter statistics,as well as female representation in other CFA roles,were a challenge to the organisation.

“What it tells you though is that we’re denying a large percentage of our community to be involved if we continue down that road and we’ve got to change that,” Mr Lapsley said.

“Communities in rural Victoria are getting smaller so therefore diversity is critical and it’s not just about gender, it’s about diversity.

“Because we’re still very strong in what we call the Anglo-Saxon profile, it’s got to be a diversityissue, not just a gender issue, but gender is a very important part.”

Mr Lapsley said the CFA needed to ask itself questions about its culture, the roles that are available and whether the stereotype of the heroic male was something that held women back from considering a firefighting career.

“There are some examples where there are some really strong CFA fire brigades that have got great female leadership, but in the main, the leadership of CFA across the state is male-dominated,” Mr Lapsleysaid.

“It’s not reflective of societal figures and therefore we have to look at it and do things differently and we’ve got to take actions that encourage the workforce to become more diverse.”

Mr Lapsley said other emergency services including police, ambulance and SES had better female representation.

New requirements placed on firefighters this year will mean firefighters have to be trained foremergency medical responses.

Given the number of female paramedics, Mr Lapsley said, medical duties might appeal to women considering firefighting work.

“It’s not necessarily just the hard firefighting bit, it’s got other elements,” he said.

Mr Lapsley said the lack of female representation in the CFA was not at crisis point, but indicated the organisation was not maximising people’s potential.

In contrast, BendigoSES spokesperson Natalie Stanway said gender diversity was not an issue at her unit because women accounted for 50 per cent of members.

These figures are also represented in the unit’s leadership witha femalecontroller,deputy controller and officers.

“The only time that you might encounter (gender issues)insome of the work that we do, is when we’re using the ‘jaws of life’,” Ms Stanway said.

“They are quite heavy and although, as a woman, I can use them, I will sometimes get my male counterparts to help me place them becausethey are27 kilograms.”

Ms Stanway said Sunday’s Lake Weeroona event was about celebratingthat many women’s partners support oftheir emergency work and their helpwith home-related responsibilities sowomencouldbe outserving the community.

Victorian Minister for Emergency Services Jane Garrett said there was a long way to goin terms of female representation in theemergency services and other sectors.

Ms Garrett said the community should commit to making sure girls had the same work opportunities as boys.

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