Inquiry told ‘rigid paramedic stereotype’ is stopping women from rising through ranks of Ambulance Victoria
The stereotype that paramedics must be “white, male, of able-body and mind, confident, stoic and the family breadwinner” is preventing women from rising through the ranks of Ambulance Victoria, according to a new report.
The second volume of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into the emergency service’s culture, released on Thursday, found the stereotype was particularly relevant in the “elite, male-dominated” mobile intensive care (MICA) and air ambulance units.
“We heard that across Ambulance Victoria, and in the MICA sub-group particularly, these paramedics are considered to be clinically superior and that ‘macho’ or ‘alpha male’ personalities are common,” the inquiry found.
The inquiry was told employees who fit the “rigid paramedic stereotype” were more likely to be considered suitable for opportunities than those who don’t, such as “women and people from diverse backgrounds”.
“We heard that women are often viewed as being unsuited to paramedic roles as they are generally assumed to lack or possess less of the physical or emotional strength needed to perform the responsibilities of a paramedic,” the commission said in the report.
“It is also assumed that women are, or want to become, mothers/caregivers (irrespective of their individual circumstances or preferences) and therefore will be unable to work full-time or long hours, overnight or on weekends or be on-call, and that they will go on parental leave.”
The commission heard employees who don’t fit stereotypical expectations “self-select out” or don’t apply for opportunities because they assume they won’t be successful.
About 67% of female employees surveyed by the commission said certain barriers would prevent them from applying for a transfer, promotion or different position. The most common barriers were their work pattern, for instance flexible or part-time work (32.1%), carer or parental responsibilities (26.6%) and sex/gender (22.5%).
Meanwhile, of the 60% of men who identified barriers, the most common was that they were unlikely to be successful (21.9%), their location (18.9%) and their work pattern (16.1%).
The commission said a requirement within the organisation that employees had to get a personal endorsement from their managers before they applied for a higher position had “facilitated subjective and biased decision-making” and entrenched discrimination.
“The endorsement requirement makes certain career advancement opportunities within Ambulance Victoria contingent on fostering relationships, rather than possessing the necessary skills and capabilities,” it said.
“This places a significant burden on individuals to cultivate close, positive relationships with their managers and other superiors and undercuts efforts to prioritise equality, fairness and inclusion.”
Again, it is women, employees working flexibly and those from diverse or marginalised groups, who are most affected as they aren’t “part of the so-called ‘in crowd’” or “boys club”.
“People being tapped on the shoulders for development opportunities seem to always be blokes. The same men seem to get higher duty opportunities. Women are usually overlooked,” one employee told the commission.
“You can have a very good résumé, it means absolutely nothing. They’ll pick who they want, it’s notoriously corrupt,” another said.
The report made 19 new recommendations on top of 24 that were announced in volume one late last year, which detailed widespread reports of incivility, disrespect, discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation in the emergency service.
Among the new recommendations is the removal of structural barriers to career advancement, such as the requirements for managerial endorsement for roles, the development of an equal pay policy and increased diversity in senior operational and specialist clinic roles, as well as on Ambulance Victoria’s board.
Ambulance Victoria has accepted all 43 recommendations.
“We are committed to driving and delivering meaningful and generational change,” the acting CEO, Libby Murphy, said.
“Our dedication to treating patients with dignity and respect, must be matched with the everyday experiences of all employees and first responders in our workplace.”
Murphy said Ambulance Victoria had established a new division and executive director to lead the long-term reforms and had improved governance arrangements.