Just Because I'm a Woman

Why I'm okay with being hired "just because I'm a woman"

It's that time of year when hiring officials throughout all the wildfire response agencies are doing summer hiring. This process involves reviewing applications and resumes, checking references, conducting interviews, and even making efforts to acquire a set of diverse employees.

I've been accused multiple times of being hired just because I'm a woman. And I've hated that accusation for years. But not now. Because maybe it's true. The other truth is, if I were never hired under a diversity hire, I never would have been hired. All of my jobs would have gone to a white male whether or not he was the right person for the job.

Job Inequality is Real

When I was 21 and worked my first season as a full time fire seasonal, I made the same rate as an 18-year-old boy with no experience related to fire. I had worked two summers prior as an emergency on-call firefighter and another summer as a camp crew member where I learned all the ins and outs of the incident command post for major wildfires. I had been through all the fire training courses well before being offered the full-time seasonal position. Additionally, I had completed two years of college and worked in various capacities through all of my schooling (high school and college) as well as over the summers. The 18 year old boy had a high school diploma and no other work history.

I was probably only hired because I am a woman, and not because I was more than qualified for the position. But if being a woman is the only thing that will get me a job, then so be it. Until we can change the system to effectively employ quality, qualified individuals, I am happy taking my "in" as a "diversity hire."

I'm okay with being hired just because I'm a woman because I know I can do the job, and I can do the job well. If that means "stealing" a job from a male counterpart who might be just as qualified as I am, then so be it. I can do the job and I can do the job well.

Women Want Special Treatment

If I am hired for a job and a man who applied was more qualified, but I got the position instead of him--isn't that wrong? Now here's where the men will say that I want special treatment because I'm a woman. And the women will say "That's bullshit! I only want to be hired if I'm the best qualified."

I, however, don't think it's wrong. And I don't think that this means I want special treatment because I'm a woman. I don't feel the least bit bad about being hired just because I'm a woman when there was a man who was more qualified than I am. Why? Because I have worked 9 years in wildland fire including 8 summer fire seasons, 3 winter extensions (because I do good work and I'm willing to keep working), and 2 winter seasons on prescribed burns in the Southeast. In all of that time, I still haven't had opportunities to work on qualifications that were handed to second-season boys this year. I have worked on engines, hand crews, hotshots, helicopter crews, and prescribed burn modules.  I have worked for four different agencies in three different regions. I'm not asking for any more special treatment than the men already get.

If a man applies for a job and he has more qualifications than I do, but I get it just because I'm a woman, well then maybe we are making progress. I haven't been able to get those qualifications because men won't sign my task books. Because men won't give me opportunities even when I ask for it directly. Because men don't think women are "cut out for fire" (I was literally told this). Because men give those opportunities and qualifications to their buddies. Would I rather be the best qualified candidate for a job? Absolutely, YES. The problem is, I can't get more qualified than the men unless I get the job, and even then it's not a guarantee when so many qualification attainment relies on the approval of men who think I shouldn't be in that job.

Yes, I'd love to live in a world where people are hired based on their work ethic, intelligence, stamina, passion, willingness to learn, ability to do the job well. But I don't live in that world because that world doesn't exist--yet. And until it does, I am perfectly okay with getting a job just because I'm a woman. Because this woman can do the job. It's highly unlikely that I will ever get a job that I'm not wildly overqualified for, but if I did get one over a male-counterpart, I say, "It's about time." 

Berate me and try to offend me by suggesting I am only a "diversity hire," but when you get down to it, I know that I can do the job. I can do the job well. It's about time women are afforded a few privileges that men have taken for granted through all of history.

To the men who say, "You know you got that job just because you're a woman, right?":

You know you got your job just because you're a man, right?


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