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Barriers and enablers to women in fire and emergency leadership roles

Debra Parkinson (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Alyssa Duncan (Women’s Health in the North, Thornbury, Victoria, Australia)
Frank Archer (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 6 March 2019

Issue publication date: 11 April 2019




The purpose of this paper is to understand what (if any) actual and perceived barriers exist for women to take on fire and emergency management leadership roles within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria, Australia.


An anonymous quantitative online survey was used to collect data about opinions and thoughts of staff. This informed the qualitative component of the research – in-depth, semi-structured interviews and a focus group. The combination of these techniques provides deeper insight into the nature of the barriers for women.


Respondents identified real barriers for women accessing leadership roles in fire and emergency. Reflecting the wider literature on barriers to women in executive roles, those identified related to sexism, career penalties not faced by men for family responsibilities, and assumptions of women helping other women’s careers. There were more men in senior roles, leaving senior women isolated and often overlooked. Women had fewer role models and sponsors than men and less developed networks, finding it harder to access training and deployments. The context was described by most as “a boys’ club”, where men were seen to dominate meetings and stereotype the abilities of women.


This paper analyses the barriers to women in fire and emergency leadership roles within a masculine workplace and is rare in including a qualitative aspect to the issue in the Australian context.



Parkinson, D., Duncan, A. and Archer, F. (2019), "Barriers and enablers to women in fire and emergency leadership roles", Gender in Management, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 78-93.



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