There have been doubters - those who tell me that it's not a job for women or that I don't deserve my place. But they're wrong. And they’re in the minority. And that kind of experience isn’t limited to my industry. It’s a battle with the underlying sexism that resides within our society. We must all do more to change that, so that our daughters have the same opportunities as our sons.
In the meantime, it’s important to acknowledge the world as it is and the expectations that drive how we all think and behave. When you’re in a group environment and you’re in some way ‘different’, it’s only human to try to adapt in order to fit in. Which is why in many male-dominated environments, successful women unconsciously try to emulate male traits. Although it’s completely normal, it’s often counterproductive. Once you feel like you fit, it’s common to turn down new opportunities – like a promotion – because you’ve spent so long adapting your behaviour to fit into that group and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself or start again. And, more than anything, it means compromising who you really are.
The truth is that, while the current stereotype persists in my workplace, I’ll never fit in. But I’m OK with that. I would encourage all women in the fire service or in male-dominated industries to embrace being different. Don’t waste your energy trying to conform. It can be incredibly empowering to exist beyond the mould. I’m not constrained by a certain image or a specific set of expectations. I chose to combine firefighting and researching decision-making because I wanted to do something positive to help my colleagues and because I felt able to define my own path. Because when you’re free to be different, you’re free to define your own boundaries. So push those boundaries and do something incredible. But, above all else, always be wholeheartedly and unapologetically you.