Tamara Beckett DELWP

Through its Women in Fire and Emergency Program, FFMVic is working to increase its representation of women, with the aim of achieving equal representation of men and women by 2025.

The theme for the 2022 IWD is #breakthebias and we asked Tamara Beckett, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO), and Director, Forest and Fire Operations for the Port Phillip region how she has gone about doing that throughout her varied career.

During the 12 years she has worked at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Tamara has had to prove herself many times, especially since she is female, from a non-operational background and a mother with young children.

‘Working in forest and fire management is a great opportunity to make a difference to communities and to the environment, and it’s been really interesting the reactions I’ve had in the last few months since I started as a DCFO when I’ve met new people and they’ve asked what I do,’ Tamara said.

‘To most it’s a great surprise, and a number have then asked who looks after my kids!’

When Tamara first started at DELWP it frustrated her that there seemed to be an automatic level of authority and credibility given to males, even when they were new or unknown.

‘There is also real operational bias within the emergency management (EM) sector so I have had many people make assumptions about me and my capability because I don’t come from an operationalforest or fire management background, but “fluffy” things like community engagement, culture, and diversity and inclusion,’ Tamara said.

‘I’ve had people (always men) tell me they are surprised I know so much about the topic we were discussing or how surprising it was that I had made a certain decision.

‘It is often with really begrudging respect, and intended as a compliment. But it does still sometimes frustrate me that I feel I must prove myself in a way that men in similar roles don’t.’

Tamara has worked hard to break the biases she has encountered

‘Believe it or not, I am still occasionally called ‘love’ when working in an Incident Control Centre or with community members. So I have to remind people of my name when that happens, and I try to call out bad behaviours whenever I see them,’ Tamara said

‘At the end of the day though, the best way for me to break the bias is to go about doing what I have to do and demonstrating that I can be really capable, a leader, a female, and a parent all at the same time.

Tamara is passionate about encouraging and promoting the value of diverse experiences and perspectives.

‘I consistently and constructively challenge the status quo, even though it often requires uncomfortable conversations,’ Tamara said.

‘I have learned not to make assumptions about how women in particular, but also other new parents, may want to participate in the workforce or emergency management after they return from parental leave.’

Being a mum to two young children Tamara tries to make the most of DELWP’s flexible work policy.

‘While we have been working from home, I make no apologies for the times when I am doing my job with a child or two on my lap (or having a meltdown right next to me),’ Tamara said.

‘I realise I am extremely privileged that I have the chance to do this, and obviously when it comes to emergencies, juggling kids and working from home is not always possible.

‘But equally I feel a real responsibility to walk the talk in terms of recognising that everybody has different needs and ways of working, and that often these can be accommodated and supported to enable the best participation from all of our workforce, and so that we can take advantage of the huge amount of talent within our organisation and our sector.’

Tamara feels she has been really privileged to have several really fantastic managers and leaders.

‘They support and challenge me regularly and accept that I have strong views on things!’ Tamara said.

‘I’ve actually never had a direct manager who is female, but there have been a number of both men and women who have provided great advice and support throughout my career.

‘There are a handful of women I speak with on a regular basis who help me work through things, to vent, to give me a different perspective and to just remind me that “yep, it’s hard, but I can do this”.’

The best piece of advice Tamara has ever been given is to learn from others, but be yourself and stand up for yourself, and don’t let someone else’s assumptions about you or issues define you or break you.

‘If people’s assumptions are wrong, challenge them – constructively – and show them comprehensively why,’ Tamara said.

‘Don’t feel “less than” because you don’t know everything, whatever the context. Nobody knows everything, and no leader should ever pretend to know everything.

‘Know what you bring that is unique,’ Tamara said.

‘My value is in bringing together the best of the knowledge and skills in the people around me, and contributing my particular and unique set of knowledge, experiences, and perspective to that. Nobody else brings what I bring, and nobody else brings what you bring.’

Though there have been some tough times, Tamara said the absolute best thing about her job is the people.

‘FFMVic is made up of really passionate people who have such a vast range of knowledge and experience, huge capability, and at heart want the best for their communities and the environment,’ Tamara said.

‘I am always learning, and I feel really lucky that I have had the opportunity to build my career in the public sector, and specifically in emergency management.’

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

Page last updated: 07/03/22