Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... January 2019 Issue Number 222

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association annual conference will take place February 20-24, 2019 in Virginia Beach. Linda Willing will be presenting workshops entitled "Building Character in the 21st Century Fire Service" and "Professionalism: It's Not About Getting Paid."

Now available! On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered through this website.


In the News

Fighting Fire While Black

Fighting fire is the great equalizer. When firefighters enter a burning building wearing full protective gear, it is impossible to tell if an individual is black or white, or even male or female. And nobody cares about those details in that critical moment.

Unfortunately, that level of welcome and acceptance does not always extend to other day-to-day operations.

Last summer, an Oakland firefighter was out in his district doing routine vegetation inspections. These inspections are part of a city-wide program to reduce the risk of fire spread and create more defensible space in the Oakland Hills area. Firefighters make an effort to contact residents before going onto their property, but are authorized to enter accessible outdoor spaces even if residents are not home.

On two different occasions, this firefighter, who was in full uniform with a fire truck parked in the street, was questioned, recorded, and reported to police for suspicious activity. It was no coincidence that this firefighter also happened to be black.

His officer confirmed that no white firefighter has ever been reported to police while doing the same type of inspections.

This story is nothing new. Years ago I remember hearing from a black colleague how a woman refused to let him touch her on a medical call. Another was questioned by a security officer despite being in full uniform on an emergency response.

As a woman firefighter, I sometimes had my identity questioned, but I never had someone call the police on me. I might have been treated disrespectfully, but I was never treated as if I were dangerous.

Most white male firefighters have probably never experienced this level of fear and scrutiny when on official business.

Facing this type of bias is unfair, and puts increased pressure and stress on those who are the targets of it. The first way to combat it is to raise awareness that the problem exists. Firefighters who experience implicit bias or outright mistreatment should feel comfortable talking with their coworkers about what happened, and those coworkers need to understand that the problem is not isolated to one person. In this way, alliances can form and individuals and organizations can take an active role in educating themselves and the community about the destructive biases that persist among them.

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 2018


News Brief

After 100 years of efforts, and over 200 bills introduced into the US Congress that ultimately failed, in December the Senate unanimously approved a law that will allow lynching to be charged as a hate crime in addition to existing crimes such as murder. Over 4700 people were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968, most of them African-American.

Source: BBC News, December 20, 2018


Sexual Harassment Update

When Bullying is Legal

Many people have the misconception that all workplace bullying is illegal. It's not. Although efforts have been made in recent years to enact some type of national anti-bullying legislation, at this point, there is still no federal law in the United States that forbids generalized bullying.

This is not true in many other countries. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many European countries are among those who have passed legislation related to bullying. But so far, not in the United States. Some state and local legislation related to bullying does exist, but it mostly focuses on bullying in schools. Only Tennessee, with its Healthy Workplace Act, specifically forbids workplace bullying, although the law only applies to public employers.

Bullying or harassment based on protected categories under Civil Rights law can bring liability on an employer. Current federal protected classes are race, sex, color, religion, ethnicity, age, and disability. Many states and local jurisdictions have further protections at that level, most commonly for sexual orientation.

But if someone is being abused because they have big ears, or they like country music, or they follow a vegan diet, or any number of other characteristics, that person has no legal recourse.

Of course, employers can enact codes of behavior that require civility and forbid bullying, but such policies can be hard to enforce, and they also tend to focus on individual behavior rather than organizational culture. Bullying really cannot exist unless an organizational culture tolerates it on some level. Solutions must address this larger reality.

Source: Workplace Bullying Institute


© Linda F. Willing, 2019