Women Leading at Fire and Rescue NSW

Business overview

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) formerly the New South Wales Fire Brigades (NSWFB), created in 1910, is the State Government agency responsible for the provision of fire, rescue and hazmat services in cities and towns across the state.

Fire and Rescue NSW is one of the world’s largest urban fire and rescue services and is the busiest in Australia. Its purpose is to enhance community safety, quality of life, and confidence by minimising the effects of hazards and emergency incidents on the people, property, environment and economy of NSW.

The organisation employed, as of June 2019, more than 6,850 Firefighters, approximately 5,890 Community Fire Unit Members and 432 Administrative and Trades Staff, all working together.

The business challenge

In a workforce of 6,850 firefighters, just 17 female firefighters were in senior leadership positions as of mid-2018. Reasons cited for this low number of women in the leadership ranks included cultural barriers within a traditionally all-male workforce, and a lack of confidence among female firefighters who did not recognise their own potential for promotion.

Fire and Rescue NSW has long recognised that a more diverse leadership of the organisation would be a benefit to its operations and the service received by the people of NSW. As such, it has been proactive in encouraging and developing more women into its leadership pipeline.

The solution

Executive Central was engaged by Wayne Phillips, Chief Superintendent, Organisational Development People and Culture, Fire and Rescue NSW, to implement its Women Leading solution.

The Women Leading @ Fire and Rescue NSW was led by Executive Central director Reyna Matthes who worked with the top 17 female firefighters. The dynamic program involved coaching and networking opportunities to empowered those participants to further their careers and climb the ranks of Fire and Rescue NSW.

“We chose Executive Central because they had a tailored leadership program for women,” Chief Superintendent Phillips said. “Executive Central had delivered the Women Leading programs in similar organisations to ours and it had a good track record for what we needed.”

“We were looking for higher engagement from our senior women, more trust in the organisation to develop women and to increase the representation of women in leadership.”

Business outcomes

The program is still being evaluated as of July 2019; however, feedback has been very positive. Participants have said they feel more confident, are more aware of their own strengths and potential within Fire and Rescue NSW, and they are transferring those things to other women within the organisation.

Tracey Spindler, Leading Station Officer, Forestville, said: “The things that were of value, more than I had anticipated, were the connections and contacts that I made with other senior female colleagues.”

“This important aspect was enhanced by the program structure: three two-day sessions with overnight stays and each one followed by a one-on-one coaching session with Women Leading coach Reyna Matthes. It’s the most perfect balance of group work and individual focus.

“The big take away for me was the focus on ‘strengths-based leadership’ – that was pretty potent. We got to explore strengths even further, recognising our strengths and how to apply them – that really was a big deal. I feel it has given me confidence as a leader.

“Particularly useful was the Career Map work (a roadmap for career management). I think that 20 years ago, if someone had sat with me and talked to me about my career map, I would have taken on a leadership role much earlier.

“Six or so months after the program, I’m feeling more confident because I’m focusing on my strengths and how I can incorporate them into my leadership.

“Personally, I was able to move forward and feel acknowledged by Fire & Rescue.”

Zena Mehanna, Station Officer, Leichhardt, said: “The standout reasons for me as to why the program was successful was first and foremost the women who participated. It was an important and rare opportunity to network and offer support to each other as senior women.”

“The other valuable component of the program was that it really reinforced being yourself through its strengths-based leadership approach.”

Chief Superintendent Phillips said: “I had informal feedback along the way that the participants felt we had really invested in them and their leadership.

“Building the pipeline for women in the organisation is one of the reasons we went down this path but it’s only one part of the pie. We are also building a more flexible and inclusive workplace for everyone – men and women. This is a public-sector-wide trend.”

Contact Reyna to discuss whether the Women Leading program could be the right solution for your organisation.

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