Diversity in Emergency Management: How it needs to become the New Normal
By Kellie Hale

When it comes to incorporating diversity in any career field, there is always that one person who says, “Just do a good job people. It doesn’t matter if you are boy, girl, man, woman, white, black or purple.” Well, as far as I know, there are no purple people. Diversity should not be viewed as a “feel good” word and it means more than how someone looks. What does the term diversity actually mean? Diversity incorporates acceptance and respect, along with understanding that individuals are unique and recognizing those individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.

Therefore, when someone says, “Always appoint the best worker to the position; if they’re all women, fine; if they’re all white men, fine; if they’re all black, fine” is clearly missing the point of diversity and inclusion. How will the emergency management field be expected to grow and become more inclusive if it does not help to open doors for those representing different communities? Vilma Milmoe, the Senior Policy Advisory for Emergency Management Institute (EMI) stated, “Emergency management will never meet the mission without diversity. True Diversity – in all forms, is not just a snapshot of individuals from various backgrounds co-existing and contributing to any organization, but rather the opportunity for active engagement with varying ideas, approaches, and solutions to problems. This is a complex field, and we need the greatest collaboration possible to face and address these problems. We make significant improvements in the lives of people every day and we need to be able to relate to our diverse communities.” However, diversity is more than merely acknowledging and tolerating the differences in individuals.

Diversity is a conscious practice that involves recognizing how personal, cultural, and institutionalized discrimination/racism will create and sustain privileges for a certain subgroup of people while continuing to create and sustain disadvantages for others. A way to battle those adversaries to diversity is to build strong alliances across different subgroups to work together in eliminating personal, cultural, and institutionalized discrimination/racism.

Women, people of color, low-income and/or rural communities, under-represented groups, disabled populations, and other marginalized people are the ones who will suffer the most as natural disasters increase and become extreme. Emergency Managers tend to enact policies, programs, and decisions that often leave out the participation and considerations of vulnerable populations.

The Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM) is a global non-profit group that was established to affect people’s lives in a positive way by integrating social equity values into all aspects of the emergency management enterprise. Its mission is to serve as a resource and advocate for diversity and inclusion in Emergency Management. Diversity + Inclusion = Resilience is I-DIEM’s vision when it comes to enhancing global and community resilience and improving the outcomes of emergency management through leveraging diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Per its website, one of I-DIEM’s goals in action includes:

  • Educate and train the emergency management enterprise on diversity, inclusion, and equity issues as it relates to women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, various religious beliefs, low income, disadvantaged communities, and other underrepresented groups within each phase of emergency management. I-DIEM is a great resource for emergency managers and other public service representatives on how to best go about incorporating more diversity and inclusion in its best practices and everyday activities.