When Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) asked female staff to share a photo illustrating how it feels to be a woman in the organisation for International Women’s Day, they didn’t get the response they’d hoped for.
Two staff photoshopped photos to show them in a battered and bruised state, saying some of them have been bullied, harassed, isolated, assaulted and marginalised while in the organisation.
FENZ wanted images of women thriving and enjoying their jobs when its social media team decided to highlight International Women’s Day – but definitely not images of women looking injured.
Volunteer firefighter Jodie Rainsford photoshopped images of her and her friend Harmony Weston six months ago and plucked up the courage to post them on Wednesday.
“I’m so proud of all the women that they did share on their social channels. But I wanted to share some other amazing women who it seems that FENZ are trying to keep in the shadows and have been so strong at fighting back against the bullying and sexual harassment within the organisation,” Rainsford said.
Their Instagram post said some of them have been bullied, harassed, isolated, assaulted, and marginalised. Not just by individuals, but by the organisation itself.
“An organisation dedicated to keeping the public safe, but fails to keep its own people safe.”
Rainsford and Weston both laid complaints three years ago, which haven’t been resolved.
“I had no idea how bad the retaliation and victim blaming would be since I spoke up and put in a complaint.”
Between them, Rainsford and Weston know of at least 10 other wāhine in the same boat.
“The process that FENZ has defaulted to is designed to isolate and wear people down and my guess is that they hope they give up, which I think most people do,” Rainsford said.
“For me, personally, the process has been worse than the initial issue that I was complaining about.”
“Those women are being very brave and very strong,” said Professional Firefighters Union secretary Joanne Watson.
Watson said the complaints process always reaches a dead end, even after two damning reviews in 2018 and last year.
“I don’t personally know of any of them that have had their matters dealt with appropriately or resolved appropriately. These behaviours are going to continue.”
FENZ bosses fronted a select committee in parliament on Wednesday and made some startling admissions about the efficacy of their Behaviour and Conduct Office, the BCO.
“I think through the latest review, it became clear that, you know, people had lost a bit of confidence in actually the BCO. So I think we take that very seriously,” said FENZ national commander Kerry Gregory.
“We acted on all the recommendations in the Coral Shaw report but they did not result in the culture change that was required,” said FENZ chair Rebecca Keoghan.
FENZ released a statement saying it will take time and sustained effort to achieve this and there’s a lot of work ahead, but they say they remain focused.
If successful, female members may feel motivated to post more positive pictures next International Women’s Day.