UCLA professor Corinne Bendersky argues that white men have a “dominance” over the fire service in a Harvard Business Review column titled “Making U.S. Fire Departments More Diverse and Inclusive.”

“Picture a typical firefighter,” Bendersky said. “Who comes to mind? If you imagined a white man, that’s understandable: 96% of U.S. career firefighters are men, and 82% are white. This homogeneity is striking, especially when you compare it to the U.S. military, which is 85% men and 60% white, and local police forces, which are 88% men and 73% white.”

She continued to make the argument that fire departments and social norms place too significant of an importance on physical strength. “To succeed as a firefighter, stereotypically masculine traits like brawn and courage are simply not enough.”

Bendersky then correlated this emphasis to “white men’s dominance in the fire service.”

“Firefighters also need the intellectual, social, and emotional skills required to deliver medical emergency aid, support each other through traumatic experiences, and engage intimately with the communities they serve. In short, successful firefighters embody a complex mix of skills and traits,” she continued. “And yet, in my research on reducing gender bias and my work conducting training on general diversity and inclusion with fire departments, I find that, when evaluating fit and competence, firefighters tend to default to a reductive set of traits (physical strength evaluated through strict fitness tests, for example) that serve to maintain white men’s dominance in the fire service.”

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