Becoming an agency of one: DEI among the ranks
Creating a mindset to achieve diverse, equitable and inclusive hiring practices
By Robert P. Benoit
Diversity, equity and inclusion – known together as DEI – is a theoretical context designed to promote fair treatment to all walks of society by providing a level playing field to every participant.
Every organization should include these mutually reinforcing principles in its mission statement. Further, populations that are underrepresented or subject to discrimination due to background, identity, racial or sexual makeup, as well as people with disabilities, should be able to compete in any workplace environment.
Diversity is part of a universal statement posted in the workplace environment and included in job applications, which is commendable. However, diversity must be examined in concert with equity and inclusion to best manage the difficult task of creating a level playing field and to foster a sense of belonging.
Here we’ll review the three components of diversity, equity and inclusion, plus strategies to achieve success in hiring practices for all populations.
In an ideal world, diversity would be at the forefront of our minds. Everyone would be treated fairly with resources distributed equally. That is certainly not the case in the real world, which requires incorporating various cultures to move closer to this perfect ecosphere.
Noel Archambeault, associate professor of pedagogy, comments, “The sincere inclusion of people with a unique perspective is vital to the lifeblood of any community – and membership is no different”(1).
In looking at the broader categories of diversity, we find people with internal traits that are unchangeable yet essential, while others possess external characteristics that can be altered. Both must be included when bringing diverse groups together to engage in problem-solving and decision-making.
Toyese Oyeyemi, co-director of the Diversity Tracker, opines, “By building a more diverse health workforce, the United States would improve access and expand outcomes in underserved communities for high-need populations”(2). This will make it easier for these marginalized groups to receive quality.
Using this approach to include more people who reflect the diversity of the population in fire service recruitment would enhance the overall integrity of the organization. Fire department mission statements, policies and procedures, performance-based testing, and training curriculums could be established to achieve optimum levels of success that are representative of the community and attainable for all candidates. Agencies can start by broadening their research to include subcategories of candidates, such as social media groups, to ensure that their hiring practices don’t exclude potential applicants.
Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial. Sometimes equality and equity are mistakenly used interchangeably, which can derail our understanding of fair treatment.
Joshua Palkkim, assistant professor of music education at California State University, explains the difference between equality and equity as noted by the Milken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University. Palkki notes, “Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities – while equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome”(1).
That is not the case in some fire departments where minorities are promoted but may run into challenges managing their stations and districts efficiently due to little or no support from upper management. Hence, equality is akin to treating everyone the same regardless of their circumstances or background, and equity means giving each individual the tools, resources and support to be successful.
As we work together to envision a harmonic society, education in diversity, training, cultural awareness, and anti-racism principles must be taught to the entire organization. This leads to understanding diversity’s positive impact on the workforce, which promotes harmony among coworkers. Additionally, internships offer excellent opportunities for both employer and employee, with the potential to build connections with communities and educational institutions.
Inclusion is bringing people together in unity. In the workplace, inclusion makes it possible for everyone to feel valued and respected as individuals where one experiences a sense of belonging. Here, management must ask fundamental questions about themselves as leaders, citizens and human beings to understand the true meaning of inclusion. Where do we, as leaders, fit within the big scheme? How did we get here, and do we feel like part of the team?
Mari Esabel Valerde, music composer, states, “Belonging stands out in the context of access, diversity, equity, inclusion, and restorative justice as objectives toward choral excellence because it is indeed considered a human need”(1). This aligns with American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s (1908-1970) hierarchy of needs that speaks to that human connection that can only be satisfied through personal relationships, friendships, trust, acceptance, affection, intimacy, and love.
Further, Fire Chief Donna Black, IAFC president and board chair, noted that the organization is moving toward creating a better and more inclusive fire service, “to ensure public trust through continuous efforts to nurture a diverse, inclusive, and well-trained workforce”(3). This is the beginning of a vital process that examines past practices and introduces transformation to elicit fundamental changes in people, relationships and communities.
Once a solid plan has been implemented, and you begin to recruit and hire diverse candidates, have an evaluation/critique system in place to measure outcomes, especially in retention. A metric system should be established to isolate problem areas and hold leaders accountable for resolving them.
Diversity, equity and inclusion provide liberation for all humanity to live life in a community with others where everyone is treated fair. We must begin to engage in this process through awareness and understanding of how the actions of contemporary progression, structures and people lead to ongoing racism, bias, exclusion and inequity. To achieve this level playing field, we must continuously explore and dismantle inequitable practices and disparities that negatively impact all walks of society, thereby supporting reciprocity and equitable opportunity.
About the author
Robert P. Benoit is the fire chief for the Lafayette (Louisiana) Fire Department, where he has served since 1993. He previously served as an instructor of fire science at Louisiana State University – Eunice and as president of the Southwestern Division of Fire Chiefs for the IAFC. Benoit has an associate degree in fire science, a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, a diploma of ministerial training, and a graduate certificate of Christian theology, among other education in arson investigations, hazmat training, EMS and law enforcement. Benoit was named to the Louisiana Fire Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2018.
1. Anzaldúa, Ahmed, Noël Archambeault, Joshua Palkki, et al. “We Hold These Truths: Defining Access, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Restorative Practice.” (Choral Journal 62, no. 7 March 2022).
2. “Making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a Priority.” (Modern Healthcare 51, no. 30 December 6, 2021): S001.
3. iChiefs: The Official Magazine of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. (Matrix Group Publishing. Winter 2022-23).