Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service : Firepride
The LGBT network at Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service, Firepride, are one of our inaugural Awesome Networks. The Chair of the network, Matt Maguire, lets us know more about the network and their work.
Inclusion is a long standing priority for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. Nationally and locally, the fire sector has worked for over ten years to improve the diversity of its workforce and the way it engages with the community.
Drives to encourage more female and black and minority ethnic (BME) staff into the Service were relatively successful, until many Services froze their recruitment after the financial crisis hit.
However, the focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff remained something of a taboo until more recently.
Joining the organisation eleven years ago when I was in the closet to most people, I was struck by a lack of visible LGBT role models, which meant the organisation just didn’t know how to have conversations about ‘gay’ issues – either internally, or with the community.
Photo : Visible senior support. Chief Fire Officer, Paul Hancock with Alex Gwynne, Client Account Manager at Stonewall.
Over time I came out to selected people at work who were supportive, but overall the culture still couldn’t decide how to approach the LGBT question. In 2010 I was ‘coerced’ by our equalities officer, Erin Fulton, to take on the LGBT Champion role after I’d expressed one opinion too many about how things could be done!
We immediately set about reviving and re-launching our staff network by speaking directly to the small number of out LGBT staff we had and taking their ideas on board.
Together, LGBT colleagues devised a new identity, which included our iconic pink fire engine logo, Firepride name and a clear plan for what we wanted to achieve, which fed into and supported the organisation’s objectives.
We talked directly to members of staff who questioned why we were investing in what they saw as a peripheral issue – and had some challenging but ultimately positive conversations that helped us to tailor our messages and approach.
“While Pride events do not represent the gay community in its entirety, the impact of the colourful atmosphere is never lost on members of staff attending for the first time and many go on to become allies themselves or are driven to find out more, creating a positive feedback loop.”
From the beginning we’ve had senior buy-in. Our Chief Fire Officer, Paul Hancock, in particular was and remains passionate about supporting and encouraging an open workplace culture, with a strong team ethos. In an emergency service, where your life is often in your colleagues’ hands this probably comes as no surprise.
Face to face conversations and hearing real stories remain the most important and successful way in which we’ve made a difference – recruiting informal leaders and unofficial champions to promote our messages as straight allies and champions.
As a network, we have used digital and social media extensively to promote key messages and we focus on visible symbols to engage our workforce and communities. In an emergency service, with a variety of crewing and shift patterns getting together as a network is never simple, so other means of communicating have to be used.
As a public-facing organisation, community events like Pride have been an effective way to change perceptions of the Service within the LGBT community.
Our genuine sparkly pink fire engine always draws large crowds and its vivid safety messages create conversations and help break down barriers.
“As our resources reduce, monitoring has allowed us to ensure we continue to target and focus on the most vulnerable in our community and that we’re meeting the needs of our greatest resource – our people.”
This is important because smoke does discriminate and there are real fire and community safety risks for LGBT people – related to isolation in older age, alcohol and drug use and mental health issues. However, engagement with the LGBT community helps us to break down the traditional unwillingness of many LGBT people engage with a ‘macho’ organisation like the fire service.
Our attendance always includes Firepride members and allies, as well as operational and support staff from across Cheshire. In 2015, we’ll be out in force at Pride events in Chester, Manchester and in Warrington – come and say hello!
While Pride events do not represent the gay community in its entirety, the impact of the colourful atmosphere is never lost on members of staff attending for the first time and many go on to become allies themselves or are driven to find out more, creating a positive feedback loop.
One of the best ways of demonstrating the value of our equality work is to quantify our successes and benchmarking ourselves against others fire and rescue services and partner organisations.
We were the first fire and rescue service to be awarded Excellent status under the Fire and Rescue Equality Framework and we have featured in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index Top 100 for the last three years – in 2015 we were the best performing emergency service at no.31.
We don’t enter the Stonewall Index to tick boxes, we actively use it to help us improve and refine our services. The feedback we receive each year helps us to develop a gap analysis and feeds our LGBT staff network’s annual plan.
“We don’t enter the Stonewall Index to tick boxes, we actively use it to help us improve and refine our services.”
Photo : Supporting Stonewall’s No Bystanders campaign.
Photo : Celebrating their 2015 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index success. The Inclusive Networks team would like to congratulate Matt for being awarded the Positive Role Model award at the North West England Stonewall Awards in January 2015. Well done!
Photo : Showing their pride in the community. In 2015, the Firepride network will be out in force at Pride events in Chester, Manchester and in Warrington.
“Together, LGBT colleagues devised a new identity, which included our iconic pink fire engine logo, Firepride name and a clear plan for what we wanted to achieve, which fed into and supported the organisation’s objectives.”
Our extensive workplace monitoring covers our workforce and service delivery activities. As our resources reduce, monitoring has allowed us to ensure we continue to target and focus on the most vulnerable in our community and that we’re meeting the needs of our greatest resource – our people.
The work we’ve invested in this agenda has seen our disclosure rates increase and membership of the staff network go up – despite a near-freeze on recruitment. This proves that we are winning hearts and minds and improving the culture and perception of the organisation. However, there is still more to do.
We remain an overwhelmingly male organisation, and while our long term aim is to increase our diversity, the current workforce and culture means that unlike many sectors the number of out gay males is low compared to gay females – and the number of out bisexual people is lower still.
With our solid foundations and raft of champions and allies, we know that we can make progress. Our leaders are determined to keep diversity at the top of the agenda and to share our success with others in the fire sector – being an Awesome Network can’t help but aid us in that work, so watch this space!
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