The wildfire within: Gender, leadership and wildland fire culture

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This article examines findings from a 2016 study on gender and leadership within the British Columbia Wildfire Service (BCWS), Canada. The study utilized action research to facilitate an in-depth conversation among wildland firefighters about gender and leadership, and to explore participant-derived actions steps within the BCWS towards a perceived ideal future(s). The study found widespread occurrences of gender discrimination in the day-to-day practice of leadership, and that gender made a difference for wildland firefighters’ experiences of normative workplace culture. In their practice of leadership, participants described a trade-off between gender diversity and excellence. The article concludes that the practice of leadership within wildland fire must include open dialogue about, and strategic engagement with, gendered cultural norms within the workplace in order to dispel myths and latent beliefs, and support what firefighters in this study defined as ‘excellent leadership’.