Female Firefighter Fitness Rule Changes – To Misunderstand What “Talent Pool” Means


Imagine the following. We decide for some reason or other that there should be many more male midwives. We have decided that the absence of male midwives means that we are missing the ability to draw from the widest talent pool possible. We also note that men more generally are uncaring brutes, entirely blind to such things as empathy, emotion and caring, meaning that the current rules selecting those who aid at that most important moment in a mother’s life need to be changed. So that we can have uncaring brutes there as well. Thus we do so – we’ll select more of those who shout “Shut up and push, you bitch!” in the name of diversity and recruiting from the wider talent pool.

To the extent that we’re not already doing this in our NHS midwife selection process we might not think this all that great an idea. It’s entirely possible that a near entirely female dominated profession needs to be opened up to male candidates. We can all imagine that there are social barriers to empathic snowflakes taking part in this very definition of a feminine moment. But we would think that ignoring the qualities required for the job is not in fact expanding the talent pool.

We all rather grasping that “talent pool” means those capable of doing the basic requirements of the job. Those who have that and are currently excluded, sure, work to recruit from them. Those who don’t have that basic ability then we don’t actually want to be recruiting from them at all.

Fitness tests for female fire fighters could be reviewed because of lack of women, say HM inspectors If fitness tests mean that women who would be good firefighters aren’t becoming firefighters then sure, go for it. If fitness tests mean that women who would not become good firefighters do not then the current tests are working admirably – they’re restricting entrance to those who have the talent required.

Fitness tests for women entering the fire service may need to be reviewed because there are so few female firefighters, according to HM inspectors. Just 5.7 per cent of firefighters are women, which is “too low,” said Zoe Bellingham, HM Inspector of fire and rescue services. “Most fire services are not attractive employers to wide swathes of their communities so they are not accessing the widest talent pool possible,” she said. “Are selection tests creating a barrier?”

Staff in more than half the fire services they inspected told them they felt the recruitment standards had already been quietly “lowered to ensure more female applicants were successful.”

A basic requirement is to be able to throw Granny over a shoulder and climb down a ladder. It’s called a Fireman’s Lift for a reason. Given the innate gender differences in musculature – upper body strength especially – this is something more likely to be found in men than women. The requirements of the job militate against an equal distribution across genders in the workforce. More importantly, in the desired talent pool from which we draw that workforce.

The basic misundertanding here is about the meaning of that phrase “talent pool”. This is not, for anything at all, the general population. It’s the group of people who have both the necessary talent and also the necessary desire. Something that simply isn’t equally distributed across gender for a certain number of jobs and occupations. There really are times when male greater tolerance of risk, or upper body strength, are going to skew matters. Just as there are those times – say primary school teacher, midwife – when female attributes are going to come to the fore.

All of which has absolutely nothing at all to do with any one individual and their fitness for a task. But when averaged out over the population we’re simply not going to see equal outcomes in everything.