Driving cultural change in the fire industry: the simple tactics with a big impact

With 5% of the fire service being women, there is a clear need for change from the ground up

This year’s theme for this International Women’s DayEmbrace equity – was a good opportunity to reflect on the progress made for women in the fire industry and address strategies for inclusion moving forward.

To increase opportunities for women at every level, there need to be actionable strategies in place. Championing diversity of thought unlocks values we should all aim for – like synergy and collaboration – and opens the door to new connected ways of thinking and working.

Partnership and a shared focus on bringing change are key, especially in an industry as fragmented as the buildings industry. Collaboration has the potential to deliver cultural change that makes buildings’ safety the top priority. At its heart, a new culture for the fire industry is about scrapping the tick box and moving towards practical action.

Cultural shifts to deliver impact

Embracing equity is about ensuring that strategies for change are implemented. It’s about walking the walk and being prepared as leaders and women in the fire industry to stand up and be counted. Across the industry, it’s an approach that calls for improvements in communication with all parties involved in a project coming together.

But it isn’t just about macro-level change; it’s about motivating businesses and individuals to lead the charge and play their part. And whatever the scope of the change programme, whether a complete organisational restructure or more targeted efforts to engage the workforce, your measures have to be accessible and make good practical and commercial sense for all.

The human factor: what’s in it for me?

Getting the human factor right is the key to success. The more positive, supportive and collaborative your culture is, the more likely your teams will exhibit and promote behaviours that will help underpin new culture.

To change behaviours, businesses must demonstrate their determination to drive the change by building workforce buy-in. Doing this effectively requires serious investment in strategies and people.

Management teams can take charge of the design and delivery of a change programme, but an emphasis must be placed on each employee’s role as an agent of change. If they don’t feel like they’re part of the change or if there’s no emotional connection to the message, it’ll be impossible to champion the change across the business.

What’s in it for me? We all battle to find enough hours in the day, so if you want to impact real change, you must show the workforce the benefits for them. Sharing instructions or lengthy insights in technical language is dull and unengaging. There is no reason why change must be tedious or uninspiring. Instead of a lengthy booklet which sets out rules and regulations in technical language, why not grab the opportunity to tell people how much time they’ll save or how much personal impact they’ll make by making a few simple practices part of their new working day?   

Embedding values

Now is a good opportunity for businesses to clearly map out which skills and competencies will drive organisation-wide cultural change and to clarify which key behaviours will fuel this. With this firm oversight, you’re equipped to set the direction and create the key alignment across your business – and implement strategies for inclusion in the workplace from a granular level.

Understanding the drivers of change informs a myriad of things: from recruitment processes to more collaborative ways of working and the implementation of an accountability framework.

This top-down mindset shift ensures you’re well-positioned to involve teams throughout your operation. This has numerous benefits in sharing knowledge and experience, but it also enables all teams to drive forward and play their part in delivering the company’s new vision.

Empower your workforce through education

Cultural change cannot be actioned without understanding; it’s said that those that know do, but those who understand teach. Businesses must therefore make it their mission critical to create an environment where such behaviour can flourish. It’s not about handholding; it’s about creating that positive company culture where good behaviours can grow. In the future, success will hinge on leaders’ abilities to help the workforce change their practices to, in turn, drive cultural change.

Education, learning resources and opportunities for teachable moments that can engage everyone at any level is invaluable too. An organisation should encourage teams to have open and frank conversations where they can freely share their thoughts and feelings. The journey to success and the best points of contact for support need to be signposted, giving confidence that support is available. Success relies on employees’ engagement and emotional connection with the values your business is building into its culture. If you haven’t got that, you haven’t got a cultural change programme.

Communicating the vision

Communication is undoubtedly the driving force of any great programme. What’s the point of a fabulous idea without the right strategy to communicate it and win over hearts and minds? Take your workforce on that journey by setting out your vision and its key parts to play in plain English. Remember, no matter how powerful the programme you want to deliver is, it will break down without the right collaborative culture and open communication channels. Businesses should be leveraging the strengths of their communications teams, too, for greater impact.

Give dos, never don’ts

Success lies not in being prescriptive or punitive but in motivating people to take the action you want without even noticing it. The don’ts in life are infinite and impossible to retain. If you tell people the dos – the simple actions which will have a real impact – they’re more likely to get on board with the programme.

Leveraging diverse thinking

Strong diversity and inclusion initiatives deliver diversity of thought at an organisation-wide level. But leveraging the value of diverse thinking should not only be an outcome of your culture change efforts but also underpin them from the start.

Integrating diversity of thought is key to unlocking the synergy and collaboration we want to become the hallmark of the buildings industry. With our eyes set firmly on building collaboration in our sector, diverse thinking will fuel new connected ways of working. It will play a part in driving well-rounded solutions that will turn the tide on fragmented practice. 

So how are we implementing change?

It is about fostering an open and collaborative approach to discussions surrounding equity and putting key recruitment actions in flight – mandating a diverse recruitment pool of candidates. Implementing these changes is already paying off.

Traditionally our industry has had an overwhelmingly male workforce, but we’re making great progress at encouraging more women to join our industry. Between Oct 2020 and July 2021, our female hires jumped from 23% to 32% in just seven months. We’re also leading change through education with our D&I working to educate people managers on the value and business impact of D&I. And we’re supporting diversity in the broader community, providing financial support to smaller businesses to increase their diverse talent pool.

It cannot be overstated: embracing equity is not just an ideological shift in mindset but a practical one too. Change starts through building workforce buy-in to ensure your employees can see exactly how policy changes will benefit them and the work they create. By fostering a collaborative approach that offers education, learning resources and opportunities for teachable moments that can engage everyone at any level, you can work towards change that is deeply woven into the industry. At the end of the day, we aren’t here because we are women. We’re here to create safer spaces for people to live comfortably.

From a fire-safety perspective, we want to showcase the excellence of our offering in the buildings value chain and diversity of the workforce, so diversity of thought has a major role to play here. It’s time for us to shout loud about what we do and the value we bring – our solution might be that back pocket insurance policy, but we, as individuals and industry, need to be seen to be believed.

Sarah Dixon, Enterprise Sales & Commercial Director UK & I at Johnson Controls

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