More Diversity Is Needed in Emergency Management

We are limiting our effectiveness by not having a more diverse cadre of emergency managers.

by / September 19, 2014

Take a look around when you attend the next large emergency management conference. What is the makeup of the audience? What are the ages, sex and ethnic backgrounds of the people in the room? How diverse is that audience?

If it is anything like my region of the world, emergency managers are not that diverse of a group. 

One of the factors that is changing things, and rapidly, is the retirement of the baby boomer generation, which is opening up more positions for the many young people who have graduated with emergency management degrees.

Some progress has been made in the last 25 years with many more women joining the ranks of emergency management professionals, yet we lag way behind in being representative of the population as a whole. 

We are limiting our effectiveness by not having a more diverse cadre of emergency managers at all levels of government and the private sector. It won’t be long before Caucasians are no longer a majority of our population, yet the composition of our current workforce is dominated by whites.

I asked the pastor of a multiethnic church how he achieved having a diverse parish. He said, “When the people look up to the podium or to the pictures of staff on the wall, they must see people who look like them.” If we are going to have a greater level of understanding of cultural differences, increased ability to be effective and a greater impact on our capability to relate to our constituents, it will require that when they see emergency managers, some look like them.

I spoke recently to a senior fire service chief who is African-American. He agreed that for new people to get into the field, they need to see it as a potential career path. If they don’t see people of color serving as emergency managers, they don’t relate to the position.

To resolve this Catch-22 of not having minorities serving in emergency management and therefore no one from those populations pursuing the career field will require action. 

We all have to become more deliberate about recruiting people of color to become emergency managers. To achieve this will require us to first have more interactions within these communities. We must be on the lookout for outstanding individuals who articulate the desire to serve others. Just talking about the field and the different career paths into our profession would be helpful.

But why not go beyond just talking and move toward doing? What if you offered to help mentor an individual along a path toward an emergency management career? We, after all, have what some in the general public would call a sexy profession. Generally I don’t think people think of us as paper pushers and bureaucrats, which is what we are most of the time.

Let me be explicit in stating that I am not talking about some sort of quota system where you take the ethnic percentage of a community and then fill slots in your organization with the number of people who match the percentage. To hire just anyone is the wrong answer. 

I’ve only been successful in a very small way in accomplishing the above task myself. But if we all work at it, our numbers and success rates will go up. Here is an opportunity for you to assume a leadership role in changing the dynamics of our profession for a long time to come. 

All of the above requires us to be more selfless in our thinking and actions. We can do it. Let’s do it.

Eric Holdeman Contributing Writer

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.

He can be reached by emailTwitter and Google+.

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