Report: Nation's Firefighting Ranks Are 96 Percent Male

Fewer than 4 percent of the nation's firefighters are women, and more than half of paid fire departments have never hired a female firefighter, finds a new report issued by Cornell's Institute for Women and Work in the ILR School in partnership with several co-authors.

"The under representation of women in firefighting is an alarming inequity that needs to be immediately addressed," said Francine Moccio, director of the institute and co-author of the report, "A National Report Card on Women in Firefighting," which was presented at the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services meeting April 24 in Phoenix. "Women are not getting recruited and hired because of an occupational culture that is exclusionary and unequal employment practices in recruiting, hiring, assigning, and promoting women generally--and women of color in particular--in fire service."

Working with two civil rights lawyers and an economist specializing in employment and human resource management, Moccio and the research team analyzed surveys from 675 firefighters from 114 departments in 48 states and interviewed 175 female firefighters in depth. The researchers said that despite more than 20 years of legislative reform and litigation, women are simply not being hired. When women are hired, the study found that 85 percent interviewed reported they were treated differently, 80 percent said they were issued ill-fitting equipment, 37 percent reported that their gender creates barriers to career advancement, 50 percent felt shunned or socially isolated, and 37 percent were verbally harassed.

"This landmark study shows that more than half (51.2 percent) of the nation's largest metropolitan regions still have no paid female firefighters," Moccio said.

Marc Bendick, an economist and co-author, said, "The New York City Fire Department receives one of the lowest grades, with fewer than 0.25 percent women firefighters." That compares with the top 10 percent of firehouses (29 departments) with the most women, where women comprise, on average, 14.5 percent of firefighters. Locations with the highest percentage of women are Tuscaloosa, Ala. (24 percent); Kalamazoo, Mich. (almost 23 percent); Springfield, Ill. (19 percent); Racine, Wis. (almost 18 percent); and Redding, Calif. (17 percent).

The report highlights ways in which fire departments across the country can develop and reward best practices that address these issues and promote inclusion. The report's other co-authors are civil rights attorneys Denise Hulett of the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center in San Francisco, and Sheila Y. Thomas. The study, which was supported by the Ford Foundation, will be presented at the Eighth International Conference on the Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, June 17-20, in Montréal. For the full report, go to www.i-women.org.

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