Written by: Jessica Kindig (BSPA’04, MSCJPS’12)
I am no firefighter. I’m not a police officer nor an EMT. But I help keep IUPUI safe as the university’s Emergency Management Coordinator. My O’Neill degrees (BSPPA’04 and MCJPS’12) have taken me through the public sector, the private sector, and back here to my alma mater.
Emergency management is often viewed as a male-dominated field—and, certainly, it has been in the past. But the world was a lot different in the past.
Now, we have a female commissioner of the New York Police Department, a female chief at the Los Angeles Fire Department, many female administrators within FEMA, not to mention a female Vice President of the United States.
Even here at home, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s Director of Emergency Management is a woman, as is IU’s Director of Emergency Management.
Yet the male-dominated perception persists—and it’s time for that to change.
In my own experience, I have never felt that being a female worked either for or against me in my career. For me, what defines my place in emergency management is my training and understanding of my job. I tend to march to the beat of my own drum—doing that is the best advice I could give to any woman interested in entering a field that is still considered to be dominated by men.
Personally, many of the obstacles I have faced in my career have often been rooted in my own self-doubt—that negative voice we hear in the back of our minds. Mine has never said “You don’t belong here because you’re a woman.” Rather, it usually screams, “You don’t have enough experience for that job.”
We all need to stand up to that voice of tyranny, whether it comes from others or from within ourselves. My time at O’Neill played a part in helping me learn how to do that.
As a student, I would have laughed at the idea of one day working in the campus’ Office of Emergency Management and Continuity. That voice in my head would have loudly declared, “You’re not ready for that. You don’t have the experience. You don’t have enough letters after your name.”
In my Crisis Leadership class at IUPUI, we had to select and write about a person who held all the characteristics we felt a leader should possess. As I wrote my report and prepared my presentation, I heard a faint voice—the one I needed to listen to—asking, “why can’t this be me?”
That day, I chose to give that quieter voice more attention. Since that course I have worked on living up to the standards I hold so dear as a leader, whether it be in daily life or in critical and stressful life-safety incidents and disaster response activities.
Now, here I am—IUPUI’s Emergency Management Coordinator. Is it a challenge? Yes. Do I have any idea what tomorrow will bring? Nope. But I am surrounded by a network of supportive friends and colleagues who amplify the positive voice in my head.
It has been a long process, but I have finally learned not to give in to the voice that says, “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t.” Ignoring my own assumed weaknesses and leaning on the positive people in my life has taken time but has been well worth the effort.
We all need to give more power to that positive voice—the one that knows what we’re truly capable of doing. When we do that, we can find ourselves in some pretty incredible places surrounded by amazing people who share our goals and motivation.
We all want our communities to be better and safer than they were yesterday. That’s just who we are as O’Neill students and alumni. We strive to challenge norms, standards, and stereotypes. That’s a goal that transcends gender and can catapult our society past outdated perceptions and encourage even more women to enter fields in public safety.