Finding Confidence as a Woman Firefighter
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 4% of firefighters are women. There’s something to be said for women breaking barriers in male-dominated fields, but as Government Technology has stated, “Even traditionally male occupations like farming and construction management have higher percentages of women than firefighting.”
While women in the fire service can find this disheartening, there is a silver lining. Women may not be able to directly change the percentages, but one of the biggest ways to influence this imbalance and cultivate success is by developing greater self-confidence skills in the workplace.
The Importance of Confidence
Women in the fire service, like women in business everywhere, fall prey to what many call “the confidence gap.” The idea that women aren’t as confident as men is false. According to a small body of research observed by The Atlantic, women have just as much — if not more — confidence as their male counterparts. The difference is that confidence in women isn’t rewarded the same way.
Assertive women are often perceived as unlikeable or bossy. So, many women tend to hold back, but this can lead to the mischaracterization that they are “not confident enough.”
By fearlessly embracing your skills and recognizing your value as part of the team, you show that you deserve to be respected and treated as an equal.
Try these strategies to help feel more confident in your position and your abilities:
- Make a list of your strengths and qualifications. Try to list at least 10. Post it somewhere you can see often as a reminder.
- Record specific incidents where you felt confident and were rewarded for your skills in the field.
- Set goals daily, weekly and yearly, and try to visualize your success.
- Closely observe leadership materials, like books or articles, that can help you exercise your confidence.
- Embrace failures as a learning opportunity.
Quiet, internal efforts will eventually show in your overall performance. If you’re looking to showcase your skills and leadership more publically, talk to your HR department or fire chief to establish leadership courses or skill development meetings for the women in your department.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
In 1978, two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, introduced the term “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome is “That nagging feeling that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve the job, the promotion, the book deal, the seat at the table.”
Women are especially prone to these feelings. For women firefighters, these feelings are often fueled by lived experience. Instances of bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination have been identified in firehouses across the country and point out a cultural need to change the way women are treated in the industry.
But things don’t have to stay this way. There are many things that can be done to help eliminate imposter syndrome in women firefighters and improve the culture in the fire industry, including:
- Updating firehouses to accommodate women with separate sleeping quarters and shower facilities
- Implementing zero-tolerance policies for harassment and bullying
- Encouraging women to recognize and celebrate their accomplishments
- Providing support groups and reporting systems that give women a safe place to share and build confidence
Uniting and Mentoring
To make true changes in the workplace and help each other increase self-confidence, female firefighters must join together. By supporting each other and sharing experiences, we can learn new strategies to try in our own units and find emotional solidarity in realizing that we are not alone.
There are many online forums and message boards for women in the fire service. Or, you may consider joining a network like the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services.
And remember, there is no better way to grow the amount of women firefighters than to mentor and recruit the next generation. You are paving the way for future women to be welcomed to the firehouse with open arms.
For more resources and materials to continue your professional education and build your confidence, visit CareerCert’s online library.
- Fabbre, A., Lourgos, A.l., and McCoppin, R. Female Firefighters Still Fight for Equality: ‘We’re Assumed Incompetent.’ Government Technology. 2018, April 25. https://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/Female-Firefighter-Still-Fight-for-Equality-Were-assumed-Incompetent.html
- Kay, K. and Shipman, C. The Confidence Gap. The Atlantic. 2014, April 14. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/05/the-confidence-gap/359815/
- Thomson, S. A Lack of Confidence Isn’t What’s Holding Back Working Women. The Atlantic. 2018, Sept. 20.
- Bennett, J. How to Overcome ‘Impostor Syndrome.’ The New York Times. 2019, April 11.
- Strategic Fire Service Web Solutions & Marketing. Women in Fire: Home Page. Women in Fire. Accessed 2020, Feb. 5.
- Carrus Health. Articles | Careercert. CareerCert. Accessed 2020, Feb. 5.