In Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service we have over 1800 members of staff. A small proportion of our employees are female, and an even smaller number are from a Black or Asian Minority groups and/or identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual or Transgender.
For some, the experiences they have in the workplace can differ significantly due to being from an under-represented group. As an only female on a fire station or a disabled employee, there can be an overwhelming desire to seek support and engage with those people who understand and have been through similar experiences. Our networks can provide this peer support and bring these individuals together. Beyond this, networks can play a significant role in driving change within an organisation and raising awareness of different issues. They can influence policy, bring in new ways of doing things and help us engage more effectively with our diverse communities.
The fireInspire network provides a forum for our female employees to share ideas and support each other in order to improve working life across HFRS. The network deals with a range of issues such as fitness, personal development, workwear and has recently put together some guidance on the menopause to support our female colleagues through this period of change, whilst also providing advice for Managers. The group hopes the work they do will improve the working environment for all.
The group provides peer support and an opportunity for women to share experiences and discuss certain issues but also instigate change within the organisation. In 2017, the group participated in the UK FRS’s Sailing Challenge with an all-female team, and also attended some events to promote the role of firefighter. This year the INSPIRE network are supporting Cancer Research with members taking part in Race for Life.
This fireOUT network group provides a friendly and safe forum for employees who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, and also our straight allies. We aim to provide support to people, and their families, whilst promoting best practice throughout the organisation.
The group is active at attending PRIDE marches throughout Hampshire to support our LGBT communities, and raise awareness by supporting initiatives such as National Coming out Day and IDAHoBiT.
We are also involved in consultation to ensure that our LGBT colleagues and communities are considered and treated fairly in all aspects of the work we do.
FireABLE is a network which covers disability, mental health and dyslexia. The network gives a collective voice on issues relating to these areas and enables staff to share experiences and provide mutual support. The group also informs policies and raises awareness of disabilities, mental health and dyslexia.
Two sub groups of the network have also been set up – mental health working group and dyslexia working group – in order to focus on these areas (as they are the most prevalent areas in the service at the moment, regarding disability).
FireREACH is a network which primarily focuses on religion, ethnicity and cultural heritage. It is an excellent way to provide opportunities for individuals within the Service to come together, share ideas, provide peer support to one another and a key mechanism to driving service improvements.
The group currently has around 20 members which consists of both operational and support staff who have a genuine interest in wanting to make a difference in raising awareness within this area. The group meet regularly and discuss opportunities to improve our current practices with regards to those from REACH backgrounds, this includes attraction, retention and development and also considering how we can better engage/build links with different communities. There is also a great opportunity to influence and support employment strategies, policy development, procedures and practices in relation to race equality.
The network have and will celebrate religious events with the communities such as; Eid, Vaisakhi, Diwali and Christmas and Chinese New Year where some members will take part in a Chinese dragon dance.
We are currently looking at providing a Chaplaincy service across the County. This provision would be based on the individual faith of the chaplains themselves, but the provision of support would be open to all, without judgement or the prerequisite of faith.