Disaster Zone

Diversity in Emergency Management

The addition of women coming from all walks of life has improved emergency management.

by Eric Holdeman / October 4, 2011

"How did you get into the field of emergency management?" is a great opener for anyone networking with individuals and trying to find a way into the emergency management career field.  I'm personally more of the "old story" of how you get into the field of emergency management.  My goal getting out of the Army was to go into fundraising as a profession.  In the end, I ended up in emergency management because I had a multi-pronged career search pattern.  I could have also ended up in construction management.  The path into emergency management is almost as varied as there are individuals.


One of the major stories in the current edition of Emergency Management Magazine is An Evolving Profession which highlights the careers of women of influence in emergency management today.  One of the success stories for the profession of emergency management has been the addition of women who have brought change to the way in which emergency management functions on a day to day basis.  What I value is the different perspective that they bring to the table and the spirit of collaboration that can supplant the competitiveness between individuals and agencies as everyone scrambles for the almighty dollar or influence.  


When I think of my closest friends in emergency management the clear majority are women.  It is because they are the ones I've interacted most with throughout the years as they have worked their way up in the profession.  I don't see any difference in capability between women and men for the profession of emergency management.  Both are equal and the difference is really in the individuals applying for the job and the skill sets they bring to the table.  Young women entering the profession today should be aspiring to hold the senior positions in their states and the nation.  We will have a woman FEMA Administrator at some point in the future.  If I remember right, Ellen Gordon, who i profiled in the article was approached as a candidate for FEMA Administrator in the Obama Administration.  


I think one reason there is still a predominantly male pattern to state emergency management directors is the alignment of National Guard and the emergency management and homeland security agencies in states.  Nothing against the military (remember my roots) but, it a natural tendency to select people more like you.  It has been a long time since I looked at the percentage of states with the National Guard as the lead agency for emergency management.  Many years ago it was about 50%.


The next challenge for our profession is not women in the workforce, that is taking care of itself nicely.  It is bringing in minority populations to work within our career field.  Still with all the young bright faces of people I encounter looking to break into emergency management they are overwhelmingly white.  As you look at the changing demographics of the United States we are going to have to do a much better job of recruiting minorities into our workforce.  


Let's find someone, someone not like us, who has potential and mentor them along!