Millennials: Diversity in Emergency Management

Diversity in the United States, among the profession of emergency management leaves much to be desired. Eric Holdeman re-raised this topic this week. Past conversations of diversity have correctly, but incompletely centered around race and gender. 

Anyone in the field will not be shocked by the number of times I have been only one of, if not the only woman in a room of 40+ men. 

But, there are many other kinds of diversity. While there is a dearth of empirical data to definitively say, I would venture that there is a lack of diversity in terms of sexual orientation, religions or world views, level of education, work experience, (and more) within the profession. 

I doubt this claim would shock anyone. The reasons for the predominance of white, middle-aged, men is quite clear. Emergency management has historically drawn from the military and 1st responder field; areas that too lack diversity. As an example, Judy Brewer, the first female career firefighter in the United States, joined the Arlington County Fire Department in 1974. I repeat, 1974. 

But for as many times as I have been the only woman in the room, I have always been the youngest person in the room. This age gap usually spans an alarming 20 years, if not more. 

The lack of generational diversity is stunning. 

But, again, I suspect the answer to this is that historically, people have not been career emergency managers. They have started out in other professions and over the length of their career ended up in an emergency management office. 

But this is changing. With the development of higher ed programs and the increase in disasters, my generation has the potential to be the first to have career emergency managers. But will we? 

This brings me more to the point of this post: what will emergency management look like when millennials are in charge? 

There are an amplitude of articles online and in print that outline all the trials and tribulations of the millennials. The ping pong match between representatives of the millennials and older generations has been constant over the past 5 years. Last week a piece by Ben Schreckinger, a millennial, systematically dismantled the alleged "empirical evidence" and contradictory anecdotes used in every Millennial whine piece. It occurred to me after reading this manifesto that there has been little to no discussion of millennials in relationship to emergency management except guides on how to manage us. And, I can't find a single article from the millennial point of view.   

"The Millennial Stigma. Pre-career graduates born after 1982 have been called Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. Appropriate or not, individuals in this demographic are often described as entitled, technology dependent, and at conflict with traits generally associated with Baby Boomers. When you consider public safety values, such as service, loyalty, and often a long tenure with a single agency, they are not characteristics often identified by a Millennial. Perceptive applicants will properly communicate their individual values and attempt to overcome stereotypes." 

I think its safe to say a difference in music taste is probably the least of what is about to happen in the profession, but also in the field more broadly. Apparently 16% of the workplace are made up of millennials. By 2020 that number will jump to 44%. Even if these percentages are lower in emergency management, we're still going to be talking about a significant percentage of people that don't care if co-workers have expressed their political view online or have pictures at a frat party. 

But more applicable, the millennials aren't even going to entertain a debate over whether technology is important for emergency management, if climate change is real, and if people displaced by the effects of climate change are in fact refugees.  

We are entering the work place knowing that realities, like technology and climate change, need to be at the forefront of every single approach emergency managers and any related fields take. We don't need to assess whether we, as emergency managers, have a place in the climate change conversation because when we look out the window, we can see the ocean rising. The idea of Acts of God have thoroughly been thrown out the window and we see the use of the term by insurance companies a relic of irresponsibility. And, we can't even begin to understand how there hasn't been concern for individuals with functional needs until recently. 9/11 molded our understanding of the 24 hour news cycle, and while we recognize the power of the media we also know not to turn on CNN when a disaster happens. Regardless of how silly it may sound we know Jon Stewart, Buzzfeed, and Twitter will give us the de-sensationalized information we need. When a landslide kills hundreds in Afghanistan we don't even notice that CNN hasn't mentioned it because we're already following the photo journalists and aid workers that are on the ground giving minute by minute updates. We grew up watching government abandonment during Katrina. It was many of us, of the millennial generation that went to assist locals in rebuilding on our spring breaks and christmas vacations. And when we got there, we didn't see any government. 2005 left us with an inclination to not assume government solutions... not because we don't think government has the responsibility but because we don't trust the government to have the ability or competence to do anything, much less be effective at it. And then we had a financial crisis and the BP disaster to securely nail the coffin in our trust of corporations.

Relatedly, if you're currently in a profession-centric position, you may not realize that there are already thousands of millennials involved in emergency management - we just happen to be working in the nonprofit sector. If the government isn't going to do the work, and if corporations and businesses won't do the work, we don't want to work for them. I would anticipate that though emergency managers have typically come out of a 1st responder background the future emergency managers are going to be coming from 1st responder fields, higher ed, but also from the nonprofit sector. The views that these individuals bring have the power to turn the way we do emergency management on its head. 

We are less likely to ascribe to limits that have traditionally been placed on emergency management. We see, and understand how emergency management has many different meanings and roles. We see a potential for a system to be more and better than what we have now. 

While we can only speculate about the future, I think we can agree that the landscape of emergency management is going to be more diverse, and is going to change.