Why is discriminatory behaviour so prevalent in the emergency services

31st March 2023

“Unfortunately… we found trust and respect is too often replaced with derogatory, bullying behaviour, often excused as banter”  reports Roy Wilsher, an inspector of fire and rescue services, after concluding his investigation.

The Wilsher report, which has analysed the cultural values of all 44 fire and rescue services in England since 2018, found allegations of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic behaviour in at least 11 services, (i.e., 25%). Such behaviour included humiliating new recruits, acting out a rape, expecting women to make the tea, and thinking the use of racist language is just ‘having a laugh’.

Many do not speak out for fear of ‘having their card marked’, not wanting to commit ‘career suicide’. Some even join in with such behaviour for fear of the treatment they may receive if they don’t.

It must be made clear that not every person in the emergency services is part of the problem and the majority do act with integrity. However, they are tarnished with the same brush, adding to the rising concern of public distrust in the emergency services, such as with the police.

So, the question remains: “Why is discriminatory behaviour so prevalent in the emergency services?”

From experience, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is culture. Putting it bluntly, public bodies such as these are overly bureaucratic and sluggish toward embracing change.

This poses a multitude of issues in the modern world, including, but not limited to:

Being stuck in a time where modern values do not exist. In essence, an “Old Boy’s Club”;

A failure to embrace innovation and technology, which may, among other things, result in sub-standard vetting procedures thereby appointing persons who have an incompatible physiological profile to carry out the job; and

Ongoing struggles between employers and trade unions which can sour relationships between all parties concerned and stifle meaningful progress.

Most legal teams and HR departments within these organisations know this fact all too well and, in most cases, they are too under-resourced, under-staffed, and under-funded to really do anything about it.

Unfortunately, despite best efforts, there are also  private organisations where this type of behaviour   persists and is tolerated due to the fact there are senior managers who are conducting themselves inappropriately leading to others in the workforce to either feel obliged to follow suit or think that this type of behaviour is acceptable.

SMB’s employment team are highly experienced and have a wealth of knowledge in navigating employment issues within the public and private sector and are happy to assist should you require our services.

Please do contact me at joe.hennessy@smb.london for further information.