Todays society is much more complicated than it ever has been. The change from even ten years ago is considered drastic. Workplace diversity is a vital component to any workplace, whether it’s private, public, state, federal, or any other entity. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements: variety; especially the inclusion of diverse people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization (Merriam-Webster).
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Workers in today’s society are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees and job applicants from discrimination by employers. It protects from acts of discrimination via race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, education, and more, which is enforced by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC applies to most employers with at least 15 or more employees. The EEOC headquarters located in Washington D.C., along with its 53 field offices throughout the United States can investigate cases, while also providing other services such as: statistics, guides and templates for EEO surveys, outreach and education, enforcement and litigation, and initiatives.
Benefits of workplace diversity are countless, but the following are a few that standout. Workplace diversity encompasses a three-dimensional approach, meaning that it is best for the employer, employee, and together as a whole. It increases adaptability, which means that employees with diverse backgrounds can couple together their experiences, talents, and suggestions to better the organization, which encompasses the three-dimensional approach (Greenberg). Within this three-dimensional approach includes a benefit called variety of viewpoints. By utilizing the variety of employees that you have in your workplace you can meet the needs of the business and the customers more effectively (Greenberg). When discussing workplace diversity a problem that can often occur is a breakdown in communication. While it is important that employers staff people of all different races and ethnic groups, it must be taken into consideration that there may be a language barrier. Communication is vital for any business or organization to properly function, so it is in the best interest of the employer to make sure that whatever information is being dispersed, is being done so that everyone has an equal understanding.
A good way to establish the effectiveness of workplace diversity is to assess and evaluate your diversity process. This can be accomplished by an employee satisfaction survey, and will present the management team with obstacles that are present along with any policy that needs to be added or eradicated. When choosing a workplace diversity plan it must be comprehensive, attainable, and measureable. In order to do so, employer and employee, along with employee and employee must cohesively work together. The plan needs to establish the needs for the whole business, and not just a certain few who might have the most say so in developing such plan. Second, the plan must be attainable. In order to do this, you need to set benchmarks or goals to reach in a certain timeframe. Creating an attainable plan is realistic and makes sure that everything within it is accomplished. Lastly, the plan must be measurable. In order to do this you can look at similar workplace diversity plans for businesses alike and compare and contrast benchmarks and reports. A measurable plan is one that is quantifiable, assessable, finite, and verifiable. In order to make sure you incorporate all of this into your plan, a simple rubric can be followed, which is S.M.A.R.T. (Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals).
Specific – Who, what, when, where, why?
Measurable – Tracking progress toward the attainment of goals.
Attainable – Set incremental goals to help you reach milestones.
Realistic – Objectives to which you are both willing and able to work.
Timely – Timeframes are required in order to reach goals, without any timeframe there would be unsatisfactory performance.
Workplace diversity is very important for a successful business. By practicing effective workplace diversity with the simple guidance provided, you will not only produce a better workplace for your employees but employees will also produce a better workplace for the employer.
Diversity in Recruitment
A 2006 International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) report, titled “Achieving and Retaining a Diverse Workforce,” analyzed the factors that hinder diversity in the fire service. The findings in the report were based on a literature review and statistical analysis. The literature review prevented proposed solutions from research to the diversity problem. The statistical analysis was created after surveying a number of departments about their diversity and recruitment practices. The statistics were then used to validate the claims made in the literature (Fox, Hornick & Hardin, 2006).
Overall, the report found that there were five main obstacles to minority recruitment. They are listed below:
1. Most departments are passive on the issue. Diversity is not something that will happen unless departments are engaged in the community and the recruitment process.
2. Hiring processes do not measure all required job skills. If hiring processes focus on one particular attribute (i.e. physical vs. cognitive abilities) than the candidate as a whole will not be observed.
3. Any requirements for education, certification, or experience will hurt minorities. Often, traditional hiring pools score better in these areas than minorities.
4. Departments do not know how to reach the desired groups. Effective methods of recruitment to reach specific groups are discussed below.
5. Departments do not communicate a clear message of diversity. A diversity message should be used consistently from recruitment, to date of hire, to employment with the department.
The study found that there were eight methods of recruitment that correlated directly to substantial recruitment of minorities. Each department used these in some sort of combination, so these are not necessarily listed in order of effectiveness (Fox, Hornick & Hardin, 2006).
1. Word of mouth. This will probably be the most effective way to recruit for any job. However, fire departments can have members from the targeted group in their communities.
2. Formal advertising. Formal advertising could be print advertisements, radio spots, flyers, etc. These messages should be directed at the desired group.
3. Direct mail. Mailings can be used to inform candidates of deadlines and steps in the hiring process. This takes the burden of them and they will not miss a step.
4. Cadet/Explorer programs. These programs will help educate children and young adults about the possibility of the fire service as a career. This will help them compete with traditional applicants, since they often do have these opportunities.
5. News stories. The department can partner with local media outlets to produce stories about how the department values diversity. This would provide encouragement for minority applicants.
6. Diversity messages. Departments should have written diversity messages. These messages can be used in advertisement and recruitment materials. This would reinforce the candidate’s belief that the department values diversity.
7. Attend churches, cultural events, job fairs. This is the best way to get a message out to community – to go out in it. Recruiters can take diversity messages to sell employment opportunities to minority candidates.
8. Candidate preparation. Offer informational sessions that will help minority plan for interviews, written tests, and physical agility tests. Do not allow these sessions to be filled with traditional applicants.
This overview is by no means an exhaustive summary of the information contained in the report. There is much more knowledge contained in the seventy-one page document. Fire service administrators could study this publication to determine how it applies to these specific diversity problems (Fox, Hornick & Hardin, 2006)
Women in The Fire Service
Women in the fire service dates back longer than anyone may realize. The first known female in the United States fire service was a slave from New York named Molly Williams, who was said to have fought fires during the early 1800s. The first all-woman forest firefighting crew was assembled in California in 1942 and the first female in North Carolina (Winston Salem) was Sandra Forcier in 1973. In a career that is traditionally dominated by men, white men especially, is seeing a change among the faces representing the fire service. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approx 11,800 women nationwide are employed as career fire fighters and of those 4.5% are white, 2.9% are black or African American. Women comprise about 4 percent of the volunteer fire service, an estimated 32,000 members (Wiling, 2012).
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Women are found in all ranks of the fire service, from recruit firefighter up to chief of department. Women fire chiefs lead organizations ranging in size from small volunteer departments up to those that protect cities the size of Madison, Wisconsin; county departments such as Cobb County, Georgia; and comparable agencies within the wildland fire service. There is no such thing as a “typical” woman firefighter. Women firefighters come from all backgrounds, races and ethnicities. They may be single, partnered, married, divorced, or widowed. They may be 6’2″ and weigh 200 pounds, or 5’1″ and weigh 110 pounds. They may have no children, or be mothers or grandmothers. They may be as young as 18 or as old as 70. They may have a high-school education or Ph.D. What this diverse array of women firefighters has in common is their dedication to their work and their commitment to serving their communities through the fire service (Brenda Berkman, Teresa M. Floren, Linda F. Willing, 1999).
With all that being said and situations ever changing, there are many issues that are still a major concern for women in the fire service. To name a few of the issues, sexual harassment, sleeping and showering facilities and protective gear still pose a problem for women. Because of the lack of recruiting; the culture of the firehouse; physical agility testing that favors men and the lack of accommodations within fire stations for female firefighters makes it hard for females to even want to achieve their dream. So what can be done to help the process for recruiting and hiring more women for the fire service?
Have a prerecruitment checklist:
The application and testing process:
Policy Development and Review:
Fire station Facilities and Firefighter Protective Gear.
So, as you can tell women do seem to have a harder time joining fire departments, but like all other things in history, it’s slowly moving forward and being more acceptable. Good fire training creates a positive environment for new employees, improves the skills of current firefighters, and leads a fire department safely and progressively into the future. Bad fire training or none at all–threatens the safety of all firefighters, reduces morale, particularly harms women firefighters’ chances of success, and violates the department’s prime directive to provide the best possible protection for the community it serves.
Cultural Awareness in the Community
The cultural diversity in the communities that we serve is constantly changing and there is no way to stop that. We, as professionals in the fire service, must find ways to adapt and learn about these new cultures in order to effectively serve the community. Failing to do so can result in a decrease in productivity and a bad reputation of your department.
There are several ways that this can be accomplished; however, the first and most important one begins with us. We must understand that certain cultures have different values and beliefs than our own and we must be able to tolerate these differences. Showing respect for that culture is the first step in doing so. This must be shown not just verbally, but also in the methods by which we conduct ourselves. A person’s body language can be a good insight to their feelings about a particular situation. Not showing any judgment is another big factor when dealing with a different culture. Stay away from any form of evaluation and try to explain things as safe or unsafe, instead of right or wrong. We must also show sympathy by putting ourselves into their shoes. Looking at something through their point of view can help us get a better understanding of how or why they do something. Lastly, we must stay focused on the end goal of breaking through a cultural barrier. There will be times where this may get very difficult but we cannot allow frustration to interfere.
Although changing our attitudes and following these tips will help, they may sometimes not be enough. This is where training on a particular culture may be necessary. The training can include anything from learning about how the culture works, including any activities that they may consider taboo, to how to communicate with the members effectively.
Fire Service Court Cases Involving Cultural Diversity
The fire service, like all other companies, businesses, and corporations, has undergone drastic changes in its ranks with the push to have a more diverse service, this push mainly due to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women” (The Civil Rights Act 1964), and has led to many court case lawsuits against fire organizations for their disregard to the law. The majority of civil rights violation cases brought against a fire organization are for the discrimination against someone, or a group of people. Two major cases that have been brought against a fire organization are the United States v. City of New York, which was an employment discrimination case, and Ricci v. DeStefano, which was a landmark discrimination case dealing with firefighter promotions. With the diversity of the fire service changing the inclusion of women in the fire service has increased, which has brought with it violations of the Civil Rights Act, dealing with sexual harassment. A case that was widely publicized was the lawsuit case of Michelle Maher v. The City of Fresno, which illustrated the burden that can be placed on a fire organization for violating the law. The fire service has been changing over the last thirty to forty years, with the inclusions of different types of minorities that have been entering the fire service. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the court cases that have been brought against the fire service for violating their rights, the inclusion of diversity in the fire service has been brought to the forefront of the organizations issues.
Discrimination cases brought against a fire organization brought by the Civil Rights Act cause negative public opinions of the entire fire service. Discrimination, falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and “refers to the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit” (USLegal Definitions). There have been two landmark cases brought against a fire organization with the subject of racial discrimination, the United States v. City of New York, and Ricci v. DeStefano. The United States v. City of New York was as case brought against the New York Fire Department, involving discrimination of blacks and Hispanic firefighter recruits. The allegation accused the City of New York of using tests that were unlawful, by changing the scores accepted for hiring entry level firefighters, leading to a noticeable disparate impact on minorities. The city lost the case which “awarded money, jobs, seniority, and noneconomic damages to individuals who were harmed by the City’s discrimination practices” (DOJ). Ricci v. DeStefano was a “reverse discrimination case that brought notice to a fire organization discriminating against non-minority employees, where firefighters mainly white firefighters were not given a promotion due to there being any African Americans able to pass a promotion test” (Court). The court ruled in favor of the mainly white firefighters leading to the promotion of many of them, and having to settle paying over 5 million dollars to the fire fighter plaintiffs. With the lack of understanding the law of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that the law protects both minorities and non-minorities against discrimination, led to millions of dollars spent in settlements, causing hardships on the fire organization involved, and the city they incorporate.
With the increase in women firefighters there has been gender discrimination cases brought against the fire service, mostly coming in the form of sexual harassment. Sexual Harassment is a form of discrimination, under the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender” (The Civil Rights Act 1964). The case of Michelle Maher v. The City of Fresno brought the subject of gender discrimination in the fire service to the front page news. Maher was a new firefighter recruit in recruit school and was told by a superior that she would not be successful in the fire service because she was a mother, and “was not given the same opportunities as male recruits to improve her test scores” (Michelle Maher vs. City of Fresno) which led to her being asked to resign or be expelled. Maher brought a sexual harassment suit against the city of Fresno, California, where the court found that she was discriminated against, leading to a settlement between Maher and the City of Fresno amounting to 2.5 million dollars. This settlement brought financial hardship to the City of Fresno and the fire organization, which could had been a non-issue if the laws accompanied with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were fully understood.
The fire service is not separate from other companies when it comes to the liability that is involved with not following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those that have not followed the law have been burdened with court case lawsuits against them that have led to major settlements, some in the millions. Two court cases that have been brought against the fire service were the United States v. City of New York, which was an employment discrimination case, and Ricci v. DeStefano, which was a landmark discrimination case dealing with firefighter promotions. Both court cases being seen as landmark cases due to the scope of discrimination that these fire organizations were run. With the increase of women being involved in the fire service violations of the Civil Rights Act, dealing with sexual harassment and gender discrimination, there have been court cases brought against fire organizations dealing with this subject, one being, Michelle Maher v. The City of Fresno. This case was widely publicized because it illustrated that some fire services were not welcoming of women being involved in their organization. The fire service has been changing over the last thirty to forty years, with the inclusions of different types of minorities that have been entering the fire service. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the court cases that have been brought against the fire service for violating their rights, the inclusion of diversity in the fire service has been brought to the forefront of the organizations issues, and when an organization or city does not follow the rules set by the law burdens are felt through the millions of dollars of settlements that are given.
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