Rotherham’s inspirational women lead way

Published Wednesday, 6th March 2019
International Women's Day
Alex Johnson, Temporary Deputy Chief Fire Officer from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, speaking at Rotherham's International Women's Day event (2019)

Rotherham people have this week heard from inspirational women from across the borough as part of International Women’s Day celebrations.

The Rotherham Together Partnership hosted an event yesterday (Tuesday) at the New York Stadium where speakers included Lisa Pogson, Joint Managing Director of Airmaster and Julie Dalton, Managing Director for Gulliver’s Theme Park Resorts, along with Rotherham Council’s Chief Executive Sharon Kemp and Leader, Cllr Chris Read. All talked about their own experiences about gender and equality.

One of the guest speakers was Alex Johnson, Temporary Deputy Chief Fire Officer from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. She spoke about what it is like being a woman in what is still a hugely male dominated profession. She said: “I am one of only four women in the country who hold a similar senior position to me. And nationally only five per cent of women are firefighters, which in this day and age is just shocking.

“The reason for this is largely because of the image of firefighters portrayed in the media and in films, which is of men rushing into burning buildings to rescue people. Children’s shows like Fireman Sam don’t help to break down stereotypes either.

“The reality is that most of the job is nothing like it is portrayed. We do much more community and youth engagement work, where we need to be seen to be representative of the population. We have similar issues with diversity.

“Women and people from different ethnic backgrounds are simply not considering being a firefighter because they are not seeing themselves represented.”

Alex has been leading a campaign to overturn these statistics; including leading a social media campaign to get women to join the service, which focusses on children singing the praises of their fire fighter mums. This campaign was built on the insights that many women re-evaluate their careers when having children and that children themselves can be powerful ambassadors.

Mother of one Alex added: “I know what it is like to be torn between career and children. When I first joined the service I was trying to fit in with the male approach, which included being in at 7am and leaving at 7pm. Finally I realised I was not being true to myself, so I changed that and arrived at work only once I had taken my daughter to school. Just presenting the service as family friendly like this makes such a difference.”

Cllr Read added: “So many of the decisions we make in local government: on low pay, on funding domestic violence services, on support for families and on how to support people into old age; disproportionately affect women.

“The increasing number of women elected into local government shows how far we have come in better representing the whole of the community and we should celebrate the progress, but it also reminds us of the work still to do. It’s a similar story across a wide variety of careers and walks of life. That’s why events like this one this week remains so important.”