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

Spring 2007 Issue Number 88

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  

12th Annual Conference of Fire Service Women, April 25-29, 2007 Oakland, CA. Go to for more information.

Fire Rescue International, August 23-25, 2007 Atlanta, GA. Linda Willing will be teaching several workshops at this conference, including a pre-conference seminar on Leading Diverse Teams. More information will be available here in coming months.


In the News

Younger Managers

As I travel around the country, I frequently ask about what diversity issues organizations currently find most challenging. Lately I have found that more than race, more than gender, managers and leaders are saying, "Kids these days. They're not like us. They don't respect tradition. They don't want to pay their dues. They don't respect authority and rank the way we used to."

Of course, there is another side to this story. When asked, younger employees often express frustration that their skills and abilities are not valued or used in systems that value longevity above all. Younger people don't understand how someone can be in a position of leadership and be technologically illiterate. Many younger workers were raised to be more independent than other generations, and may not readily accept a role of being a support player. They may see some older workers as "dead wood" who would be better off moving on and making room for newer, younger workers.

Particular problems may arise when younger workers are promoted into positions to supervise their older counterparts. Younger supervisors may have a different management style and set different priorities in the workplace. They may define success differently and want to make more time for their personal lives along with work.

The key to good cross-generational relationships is mutual respect and a clear common mission. The fire service in the past has sometimes been rigid about accomplishing goals and refused to consider alternative methods, whether it be for pulling a hose line or managing interpersonal conflict. Diversity across generations is an organizational asset when everyone is ultimately on the same page with why they are there.

A few ground rules can help to make intergenerational workplaces more functional and harmonious. First, negative stereotypes, name calling and pigeon-holing based on age should be strictly prohibited. Leaders from the top down must set the example in this area. Even well-intentioned jokes can have a bad impact.

Second, all people within the organization should have the opportunity to try every role as long as they are willing to meet the requirements of the position. It is easy to channel people into specific roles based on their inherent characteristics, and this should be avoided for age as it should be avoided for race, gender and ethnicity.

However, skills that may be related to generational difference should be recognized and used. Most younger people grew up with computers, cell phones, PDAs, digital cameras and other technologies. Technological fluency is a valuable ability. Doing a skills and interests inventory among all employees is one way to identify areas of expertise that might not be readily apparent.

Most of all, communication makes the difference in developing cross-generational ties. Younger people may communicate differently from their elders, but they are often saying the same thing. Creating a workplace where everyone feels valued will go a long way toward minimizing conflicts that may arise from difference.

Source: The New York Times, November 26, 2006


News Brief

The New York City Fire Department has recently developed a policy that bans the posting of any material in fire stations that is sexually explicit, or derogatory in a racial or religious way. The policy was written in response to complaints earlier this year that a policy banning the posting of any material on personal lockers was unfair. The new policy includes a prohibition on sexually explicit videos in the station as well as subscription to any cable channels that provide sexually explicit programming.

Source: FireRescue 1, January 30, 2007

Sexual Harassment Update

Disability: Stereotypes and Reality

Isaac Feliciano wants to be a firefighter. When he was four years old, his life was saved by a firefighter. As a young man, he competed in sports including football and baseball for his high school teams. He has run track in international competition. On a fire department physical test, he scored 103rd out of more than 600 applicants. Still, the local jurisdiction has determined that Isaac is not qualified to be a firefighter. Why? Because he is missing part of one leg as a result of complications from a childhood illness.

Isaac is not alone in his quest to be an emergency responder despite his disability. Although firefighting and other emergency services require a high level of fitness and strength, many people who have amputations and other disabilities have successfully filled these positions. As early as the 1970s, a young man in Colorado challenged his exclusion from the firefighting testing process due to his partial leg amputation. When given a chance to compete, he scored well and went on to complete a full fire service career. In Massachusetts, a woman was barred from consideration for employment as an EMT because she had a deformed arm and only one fully functional hand. She challenged the decision and won in court, while going on to work successfully as an EMT for a different company.

There are so many cases of emergency workers who are living with amputations and prosthetics that there is a national organization dedicated to their concerns: the Amputee Firefighter Association, currently with 459 members. Director David Dunville stated that NFPA standards are often misused to eliminate candidates who have suffered amputations. "Those standards do not apply when it comes to prosthetics," said Dunville. "A prosthetic takes far more abuse than the body part that was replaced."

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment decisions that are based on stereotypes about disability, but not decisions made because of actual attributes of the disability. Simply put, those with disabilities must be given the chance to meet job requirements, and not dismissed because it is assumed that they will not be able to meet those standards. Such consideration is the law, but it is also a moral responsibility. Today, with tens of thousands of young, wounded veterans-- many of them amputees--preparing to re-enter the workplace, the very least that we can do for them and others similarly situated is to give them a chance.

Source: Herald News, January 24, 2007


© Linda F. Willing, 2007

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