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International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March each year, as a celebration of the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women across the globe.

At VICSES we have many amazing women who contribute significantly to our organisation and their communities. We are proud of our commitment to promoting diversity and working toward a more gender balanced workplace, with 33% membership represented by women across Victoria.

VICSES member profiles – #IWD2021

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Laura Dewildt – VICSES Operations Officer

“We can all influence by being a role model and supporting the development of our future female members and leaders.”

What do you love about working in your current role?

I love the variety that my role provides. The Doctrine and Planning role allows me to learn so much about how all the different aspects of VICSES operates outside of my own general rescue background. I’m also able to use my incident management skills as one of the State Duty Officers, and work in incident management teams as a planning officer. My role is very rarely the same each week, and sometimes I have to completely switch up my plans, which definitely keeps things interesting. 

How important is it to have women in leadership roles at VICSES, and other emergency services?

It is incredibly important. Having people from diverse genders, ages, backgrounds and experience allows us to get a broader range of thought and input into problem solving and new ideas. It also helps us attract a diverse range of members into VICSES.

Would you like to see VICSES continue to improve its gender balance?

Absolutely. We can all influence this by being a role model and supporting the development of our future female members and leaders.

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Evette Davis – VICSES’ Chelsea Unit Deputy Controller

“I enjoy the opportunity to change people’s perceptions and opinions.”

Have you had any surprises regarding your opportunities as a VICSES Volunteer?

I have been with VICSES for 12 years now, but at the start I never expected to get involved in our boat crew, known as the ‘Land Based Swift Water Rescue and Air Observer’. You never know when the pager rings, calling on me to utilize those skills. Back in 2010, I also go to participate in a Road Rescue skills competition. While Chelsea is not a road rescue unit, I was involved as a timekeeper and a ‘live patient’ complete with special effects make up!  

How do you think the general public view women’s roles as a VICSES Volunteer?

That is one thing that does still surprise me at times. There is still the occasional stunned look when I get out of the truck, say at a tree down. I get chapped up and grab the chainsaw and sometimes you do see a look of shock, or at least surprise, on some faces, quite often ladies, who are watching, and I must admit, I enjoy the opportunity to change people’s perceptions and opinions.

What would you say to any woman that was thinking of becoming a VICSES Volunteer?

Well, that’s a no brainer, come on down! If you are prepared to commit to the time required for training and then call outs, you will find very quickly, the friendships and camaraderie that come with volunteering with VICSES and a feeling of confidence and empowerment in knowing that if you find yourself in an emergency situation, you will know what to do, and that’s pretty special.

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Natalie Stanway – VICSES’ Bendigo Unit Controller

“Women are leaders in all aspects of emergency management, and as they progress and realise their full potential, they will inspire the next generation.”

What kinds of formal training have you undertaken at VICSES? Are the public surprised by what you can do?

Over 12+ years at VICSES my training has included Chainsaw Operator and Road Crash Rescue practitioner, as well as in community engagement, media, and Incident Management Training. I am the first female volunteer accredited as a Level 2 Operations Officer, supported to continue to Level 3. This qualification allows me to be involved in the management of significant emergencies like flood and storm, as well as fire and pandemics. I believe the public isn’t so much surprised by what I can do, but by the fact VICSES crews are all volunteers. I’d personally love for people to know more about Incident Management, and for VICSES’ profile to be boosted in this space. We're exceptionally good at what we do here, and punch above our weight as an agency.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I'd like to think I'm focused, approachable, calm and inclusive. I like to consider all relevant information, and the impact my decisions could have on those in the field or experiencing the emergency - especially when performing as an Operations Officer. I respect the input of others into creating a ‘common operating picture’, and work with the community to ensure VICSES’ actions meet their needs and expectations. After all, those who live there understand their area best.

Do you think more women are now putting their hands to volunteer at VICSES than in previous years/decades?

I do! Seeing a woman drive a VICSES truck, operate road crash rescue tools, or managing an incident are all more common than they used to be. However, we need to ensure we keep supporting and encouraging women to take on leadership or hands-on roles. My personal experience has shown that women are leaders in all aspects of emergency management, and as they progress and realise their full potential, they will inspire the next generation to take on the next round of challenges.

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Caroline Taylor, Deputy Controller - South Barwon Unit

“The opportunities have always been there, but barriers to reaching those opportunities over time have been broken down.”

What do you enjoy most about working for the community?

It’s often the fact that we’re called at a time that a person is having one of their most terrible moments. The look of relief on an old couples face once you’ve responded to flooding that’s affected their house is so rewarding - you know that you’ve made a difference.

What motivates you?

Assisting the community and the people. it’s an amazing team environment. There are strong friendships that are formed at VICSES and so many shared experiences. We all come from different backgrounds, but share a united goal in terms of helping the community, which means that we all have something big in common.     

Biggest challenges as a volunteer?

Proving yourself early on! When I first joined I remember people assuming that holding a pair of cutters would be too heavy for me, but anyone can do the job.
I love learning. If you’d had asked me before I started with VICSES if I could ever have the sort of skills of capabilities that I do now, like cutting people out of car wrecks, I wouldn’t have believed you. Then to be able to share those learnings and develop others is something I love. 

What opportunities are there for women at VICES?

VICSES gives some amazing opportunities. I’ve been fortunate enough to develop amazing friendships, and a skill base I could never imagine.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to assist with deployments to the recent bushfires and head to Mallacoota as part of a rescue support team, and a road rescue team to Canberra on the fire ground there. I’ve also been deployed to assist other VICSES units for major storms and other significant incidents.
I’ve travelled to multiple countries for road rescue competitions to represent VICSES and Australia.
The opportunities have always been there, but the barriers to reaching those opportunities over time have been broken down.

Your advice to women wanting to join VICSES or the emergency services sector

My advice would be to absolutely give it a go. If this is what you want to do, you can do it!
It gives you a great opportunity to build your confidence and capability in what we do. With the right mentoring and skills there’s no reason you couldn’t be leading your own unit one day, or leading crews on the ground or whatever you want to do. 


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Nina Brooks - VICSES Board Member

“I think there is a very mature view of females within the organisation. There are quite a lot of female leaders and they are female leaders who are well respected for their contribution and for doing an excellent job.”

What attracted you to being on the Board at VICSES?

Before joining the VICSES Board, I was on a small regional board with Otway Health for 10 years which was really important to me.  Joining VICSES in 2016 was a great opportunity to be part of and contribute to an amazing organisation.. VICSES support communities right across Victoria and the important work our people do was really attractive to me.
How is VICSES aligned to your background?

I’ve been in Human Resources for over twenty years. VICSES is a very diverse organisation with people that come from various backgrounds and walks of life. The fact so many of our people are volunteers is something I don’t think many people really understand. Having over 5000 volunteers is a critical asset and a key to success in what we do as an organisation and the state. Diversity makes a stronger organisation. We have a lot of female leaders within VICSES which is really important not only internally but in delivering outcomes for all Victorians.

I think there is a very mature view of females within the organisation. There are quite a lot of female leaders and they are female leaders who are well respected for their contribution and for doing an excellent job. The combination of males and females brings out different viewpoints and perspectives which achieves better outcomes.

What advice would you give to your young self?

I think there is a lot of pressure on young people these days to make a decision about what their career should be at an early age. I’d just say do your best and contribute to your areas of interest and develop your expertise.  I have a portfolio career now where I do a few different things which I really enjoy. It gives me a lot of different perspectives across the areas I work in.

I never would have expected to be a board member when I was a teenager. I’d say don’t stress. It will all work out. You have different interests when you’re growing up and living your life. Those interests will continue to come to the fore and you’ll end up doing what you want to be doing.
Why should we celebrate International Women’s Day?

There are a lot of reasons we should continue to celebrate International Women’s Day. We have stronger female voices, stronger advocates, increasing role models and stronger representation and that must continue. The day is a great opportunity to come together, reflect and recognise what has been achieved and what more can be done.

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Lisa Keys – VICSES’ South Barwon Unit Controller

“Take every opportunity that you can, and draw on the confidence that people actually have in you.”

What has it been like having this leadership role during such an unusual time for VICSES?
It’s was a big year in 2020; we had a tornado right in the middle of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we came through it. On the day it was about making sure we had the right crews out in Waurn Ponds with correct right skillsets – as a unit controller I ensured we were utilising some of our senior leaders and thanking other units that helped out, too. As a whole, it was also about making sure everyone was okay afterwards.

What is your advice to a junior VICSES member who wants to rise up the ranks as a female leader?

Take every opportunity that you can, and draw on the confidence that people actually have in you. During my journey, I wasn’t always confident about what I could achieve, but the men in the unit were just as encouraging as the women, and more than happy to see me succeed. I have never felt any gender bias at the South Barwon unit – if you are capable of doing the job, that’s all that matters here.

What do you think women uniquely bring to VICSES and other emergency services?

It’s really important to see the similarities between men and women, but also acknowledge and celebrate differences – and utilise that. As an organisation, it is great to see skills and approaches from many angles and experiences. It is enriching for all of us.

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Karina Osgood – VICSES Volunteer Support Officer & Bairnsdale Unit Deputy Controller

“I believe that as long as women are passionate about what we do, the leadership roles will follow.”

Describe the contrast in being a volunteer in a leadership role and then migrating over to also being a staff member?

For me, it was all fuelled for passion for the service, for what we do at VICSES. As a Volunteer Support officer I advise unit controllers about their key responsibilities, something I’ve done myself at Bairnsdale. The controllers have more respect and understanding, knowing that I know where they are coming from and still have a passion for volunteering. Ultimately we are all here for the same purpose.

Have you seen more females in senior leadership positions in your region at VICSES in the last 5 years?

When I joined in 2016 there weren’t a whole lot of female leaders at VICSES out east, but by the time I took over as Bairnsdale unit controller there were several women in more senior positions. I believe that as long as women are passionate about what we do, the leadership roles will follow. Be willing to learn all the steps involved, and to adapt to each specific emergency situation you are called out to – your work will shine through.

Victoria’s east was majorly impacted during the 2019/2020 bushfire season – how did you deal with that as a volunteer and staff member, supporting other agencies?

The 2019/2020 bushfire season was a very strange time for me as a fresh staff member at VICSES. It was different, but we always work as one during significant, multi-agency events. We’ve got an amazing team in this area – between the Bairnsdale SES, CFA, as well as Lakes Entrance CFA, Bairnsdale Tech Rescue, and surrounding units. During that time, we all worked together and had enormous respect for the other emergency services. For any women coming up through the ranks or who want to volunteer at VICSES, touch base with women already in the service. During my first year as controller, I was asking for advice from many areas and many people, which helped a lot.

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Leah Hepworth – VICSES volunteer (Stratford Unit) and Regional Trainer (East region)

“I love training and empowering volunteers with knowledge and skills to help keep our community safe.”

How long have you been involved in emergency services in Victoria?

I have been a member of VICSES since March 2015.  I have been a casual regional trainer with East Region for two years. I am employed by Wellington Shire as the Emergency Management Planning Officer and have been involved with emergency management since the Great Divide Fires of 2006. I am passionate about building community capacity and resilience to emergency events. 

What was the most memorable or interesting part of being a unit controller?

I love training and empowering volunteers with knowledge and skills to help keep our community safe and themselves when they are out on a request for assistance. The skills learnt are also transferable to their everyday life. It gives the member a sense a pride to be out helping their community which intern validates what we do as VICSES trainers.

If you could give a single piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

To have been involved with VICSES earlier in my adult life. I have learnt so much in the past 6 years. I am grateful for the opportunities that VICSES have provided me as a Volunteer and casual staff member.  As VICSES members we are highly trained emergency response professionals – we just don’t get paid. 

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Crystal Sanders – VICSES’ Horsham Unit Controller

“I am showing my kids that if you put your mind and passion into something, you can achieve almost anything.”

What is the most exciting part about being a unit controller?

I think the most exciting part about being a controller is the unexpected. That knowledge there will always be something different, surprising and sometimes challenging around the corner. I also love that as a Unit Controller I can assist the team to make moves and decisions to better the unit and take it to where it needs to be for the growing community and response area.

How do you balance being a Mum with being a leader at VICSES?

I will let you know when I figure this one out!
It’s definitely not an easy balance but an extremely rewarding one. I know that I am showing my kids that if you put your mind and passion into something, you can achieve almost anything. It’s also really helpful for this balance to have a great team working alongside me.

Do you think women feel more welcome and included in emergency services, compared to a decade ago?

Definitely, yes! I have been in the service for 15 years and the changes over that time have been remarkable. I have never really felt lesser for being female by any unit I have interacted with – however, it's the small changes that I have noticed. When I joined VICSES I didn't know a single female controller, but now here I am as Unit Controller, interacting with fellow women in other leadership roles.

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Nicole Peters - Tallangatta Unit

“I feel very supported. We have a few younger members, and everyone is always there to help you and teach you and supportive of doing extra courses – our unit is like a little family”

What opportunities are there for women at VICSES?

I feel very supported our unit is fantastic, we have a few younger members and always there to help you and teach you and supportive of extra courses – our until is like a little family, everyone helps each other out.

There’s a lot of women in leading roles, which is great. Females are becoming more prominent, young women coming through school can work in the bush or become a tradie. There are always people that get behind you, that believe in your capabilities. We’re very lucky in this day and age.

Your advice to women wanting to join VICSES or the emergency services sector?

Get in and give it a go, you learn heaps and make fantastic friends; it’s something different to do. Don’t be afraid to stick your hand up, you can achieve those goals.

What motivates you?

Helping people. It’s hard to explain I don’t feel like I’m that special.


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Kate White, Director - Community Resilience and Communications, Victorian Head Office

“It’s important how we promote our brand and stand by our values as an organisation. VICSES has a brand and that’s committed to having no barriers around gender and the strong leaders to stand by that.”

What attracted you to VICSES?

It’s such a strong volunteer based organisation. Lots of passionate volunteers across the state serving their community across multiple specialist service delivery functions. I like the fact it’s a grass roots community based organisation.

Have you seen the opportunities for women grow?

I have. There is a really strong commitment from the Board and the Executive at VICSES to grow and mentor women across the workforce. There is great diversity on the Board, we have 3 females out of 6 on the executive, we have really strong female representation at the senior management group level and some great female leaders at unit level as well. They all bring great skills and expertise to the organisation. 

What’s important in terms of continuing to build momentum around diversity and inclusion?

It comes down to how we promote our brand and values as an organisation. We have a brand committed to having no gender barriers. We have strong leaders at both staff and volunteer level and we’re committed to removing any barriers or perceived barriers around gender.

VICSES is shifting from traditional response focussed agency to one that not only responds well but builds community  resilience and really supports communities before, during and after emergencies occur. Diversity of views and reflecting the communities we serve is really important in achieving that. 

What advice do you have for young women?

The sky is the limit! You can achieve what you want to achieve in whatever industry you choose so stay the course. 

The emergency service sector is still a growing industry following the 2009 fires and the 2010 – 11 floods. There is great opportunity across the sector and we need to continue to break down those gender barriers or perceived gender barriers. It’s a great sector for a young women to get involved in.