IFSJ Influencer: Fiona Perrin, Chair of the IFE Women in Fire Engineering Networking Group

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Chair of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Women in Fire Engineering Networking Group (WiFENG) shares her views and predictions for the fire and safety industry for the year ahead

We are facing a huge crisis in the Fire Safety sector with a severe shortage of skilled workers. At the time of writing this piece there were 3,207 jobs being advertised on LinkedIn in the UK using the key words ‘Fire Safety’. That is a lot when considering there are only 17,000 hits on LinkedIn when doing a similar ‘people’ search. That is about a 20% vacancy rate. And out of those 17,000 fire safety people – how many are really competent for the roles being advertised?

I am the current Chair of the IFE Women in Fire Engineering Networking Group (#WIFENG) and I believe women are the answer. Women can not only help reduce the vacancy rate and increase retention rates, but they can also bring about diversity of thought and in turn increase profits.

The benefits associated with diversity of thought in the workplace are especially notable at the leadership level, where excessive homogeneity (i.e., too many old white men) can stifle innovation, and leave critical blind spots. A recent study found that companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least by up to 26%.

At the moment only 21% of women go into Engineering fields from school and up to 83% of women end up leaving their STEM careers before they are 35. If women do choose to stay on in their engineering careers, they can look forward to earning approximately 11% less than their male counterparts. This pay-gap widens the more senior the position.

So, what can organisations do?

Diversifying leadership can offer much-needed female representation, encourage younger women into the industry, and encourage them to apply for senior and more well-paid roles. Female leaders can also act as mentors for women entering the field and give them invaluable advice and support based on their own experience.

Over half of women in engineering reported having experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace. Organisations need to foster a culture to support and grow women. This often requires greater flexibility as women often take a larger share of the child caring responsibilities. Flexible working is not just allowing working from home two days per week, it is compressed hours, less hours or different start/finish times to work around childcare. Be willing to think outside the box.

Combating stereotypes, offering equal pay and offering women promotions into leadership roles will all help. Supporting Women in industry groups and award schemes will also help.

At WIFENG we are trying to do the following: support women at all levels within the industry; develop women and help them gain the confidence and skills to get that promotion; and inspire the next generation of females to get into Fire Safety and Engineering.

What can you do to help women in the fire safety industry?

About the influencer

Fiona Perrin has been working in health and safety for nearly 20 years and in fire safety for almost as long and has recently graduated as a Fire Engineer.

Fiona has had a varied career which has involved consulting, media, heritage, constructions, local government and housing. She spent 12 years at the BBC where she could be found fire risk assessing international offices, large events, numerous TV sets, stunts and special effects.

Fiona is a Chartered Fellow with IOSH and a Member of IFE. She is also the Chair of the IFE Women in Fire Engineering Support Group and advocates and supports women in the fire industry.

This article was originally published in the November edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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