Sarah Elson DELWP

Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) understands that achieving gender diversity within fire and emergency roles will better reflect the Victorian community, improve service delivery and innovation via a diversity in thinking, perspectives, and skills, and help enable staff to realise their full potential.

The theme for the 2022 IWD is #breakthebias and we asked Sarah Elson, a Deputy Crew Leader of one of the rappel crews based at the Macalister depot in Gippsland how she had done just that.

She has worked for FFMVic for the past 8 seasons, 5 with rappel, and loves being part of a tight knit team and feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for some women to move ahead.

Unfortunately, Sarah has experienced bias on the job but witnessed more of her female colleagues being held back or overlooked for training opportunities.

‘Having supportive managers makes a big difference,’ Sarah said.

‘At the start of my career with FFMVic I was overlooked for tasks and training such as offsiding machinery or chainsaw work because they were seen as “manly” jobs and other opportunities because I was seen as too young and inexperienced.’

FFMVic has recently implemented chainsaw skills days for women to empowered them to have confidence in their ability to handle chainsaws and in a setting that reduces pressure on success or failure, something that can be felt more strongly when in a minority situation.

Like many women, Sarah now speaks up if she feels there is bias, be it gender or age, in any decision-making process.

‘If I want some experience in other fields, I think it's fair to ask the question,’ Sarah said.

‘I have asked to be put on different jobs, so I can be exposed to those jobs and build up my skills.’

Sarah has been encouraged by many people during her career, especially one colleague within the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning.

“She inspired me to do more, build on my skills and experience and ask for what you want.

‘I admired her determination to succeed in her career path so I thought if she was doing it, why couldn’t I.’

Sarah feels things are changing for women in the workplace.

‘We can have confidence and courage to ask, to share ideas, and to help lead the way for all who want to progress or improve themselves.’ Sarah said.

‘Speak up and call out any discriminatory behaviour or uncomfortable behaviour.’

You can read the stories of other women in fire who have broken the bias on Our People, Their Stories website.

Page last updated: 08/03/22