2 2020

Inappropriate Behavior, Diversity, and Inclusivity – Striving for Change, Facilitating Discussion, and Creating a Process to Speak Up

To build a safe, comfortable, respectful and inclusive environment for all IAWF members and our professional colleagues, IAWF’s leaders are taking steps to effect change, give greater attention to diversity and inclusivity, and stand against inappropriate behavior.

by Tom Zimmerman, Toddi Steelman and Mikel Robinson


The International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF) is a professional association established to facilitate global communication about wildland fire and provide leadership through a neutral forum that considers and addresses all important, and at times controversial, wildland fire issues. In the conduct of personal and professional matters, we place high importance on the values of integrity, responsibility and reputation. We are committed to maintaining high standards both within the organization and in our dealings with others in our daily lives. 

Awareness has been steadily increasing in regard to diversity, inclusivity, and incidents of inappropriate behavior in wildland fire management. As a result, IAWF leadership determined that the association needs a clear and firm position on diversity and inclusivity coupled with a process for members to report inappropriate behavior and follow-up action to occur as needed. 

The Process of Moving Forward

We have taken steps to define what we believe are the major elements of focus as we strive for change, facilitate discussion, create a reporting process, and incorporate positive action into our diversity and inclusivity directions for the future. These general steps are shown in Figure 1.

In this figure, we show the IAWF workplace and event system in the top center as a functioning system providing a safe, comfortable, sensitive, respectful, inclusive, and responsible environment. However, when inappropriate behavior or over-reliance on past experience and practices cause any of these elements to be compromised, situations begin to develop that move the system out of sync. Once out of sync, inaction can lead to issues festering or further compound issues into more serious problems. Individuals may not understand they are the cause of issues or in other cases they may be the perpetrators of intentional and willful misconduct, harassment or worse. In some cases, stakeholders may be reluctant to admit that these are even real issues. When we find the system out of sync, we need processes that allow us to systematically correct the system to ensure a safe, comfortable, respectful and inclusive environment for all IAWF members. 

Figure 1. Ensuring a safe and comfortable workplace and event environment – IAWF’s process.


The IAWF process will support our Association and membership as we actively confront current issues associated with diversity, inclusivity, and inappropriate behavior. We have identified multiple steps within this process to develop and implement a sustainable program of action and these include:

  1. Identification of issues – realizing, understanding, and accepting that there are issues and that they need to be addressed in order to move forward.
  2. Issue awareness and preparing to resolve issues 
  3. Issue resolution – developing an Association position. 
  4. Implementation of solutions and process institutionalization – developing Association administrative actions and creating a simple, but effective reporting system for IAWF members to be able to speak up. 
  5. Taking appropriate actions as needed to resolve issues – monitoring and enforcement. 
  6. Moving back into an efficiently functioning system – establishing and sustaining a safe and comfortable workplace and event environment. 

The stages including identification of issues, preparing to resolve issues, position development, and development of a reporting system (steps 1-4) are critical to the overall process. In the absence of any one or more of these stages, we would very likely lapse back to inertia and inactivity, which in turn would lead us back to the stage of having issues that were either not known, not recognized, or not acknowledged. Regardless of the case, the issues would remain and our goals would go unachieved; an unacceptable situation. This potential is shown in Figure 1 by the dotted arrows returning to the developing issues stage.

A strong interdependence exists between defining IAWF standards, policies, and procedures, developing a reporting process, taking actions on inappropriate issues. Appropriate action cannot occur unless a defined position and a system for reporting of incidents exists. This is shown in Figure 1 by the solid arrows feeding back from the stages of implementation and taking appropriate action to the issue resolution stage.

IAWF’s Actions to Date

IAWF has completed products, identified processes, and taken actions in each of the stages shown in Figure 1. Actions taken during IAWF’s process are described in the following sections.

Identifying the Issues: Imbalance in gender representation at professional conferences, instances of sexual misconduct and harassment, lack of inclusivity, and a culture engrained in use, acceptance, and tolerance of insensitive, disrespectful, and hurtful remarks have risen to the forefront of conventional and social media and thinking today. 

Steelman and Riley (2018) clearly describe how these issues have permeated the wildland fire discipline as well as other areas. The widespread occurrence of repeated instances of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and gender discrimination has been identified in many government bureaus including the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and US Military agencies. But, this situation is not limited to the United States, as Canada and Australia and other countries report comparable trends.

Specifically, IAWF identified that recent IAWF sponsored conferences under-represented minority and female scientists in plenary speaking roles. IAWF finds these trends unacceptable and is acting to reverse these trends, shift cultural thinking, and make positive changes.

Issue Awareness and Preparing to Resolve Issues: A discussion focusing on these issues among the IAWF Board of Directors highlighted the need for development of several clarifying documents and the definition of a firm Association position on diversity and inclusivity. Issues were discussed and the framework laid out for developing our next steps and setting our course of action for the future. 

Issue Resolution and Developing a Defined and Firm Position on Issues: Before any kind of positive actions could be implemented, IAWF realized that several important steps must be completed to ensure its policy could become firm, useable, and enforceable. At this time, the Board also established a new standing committee to lead all efforts on diversity and inclusivity. This committee is the IAWF Diversity and Inclusivity Committee (D&I Committee).

The steps prerequisite to full policy implementation consisted of four principal elements including:

  • an IAWF Policy and Position on Diversity and Inclusivity; 
  • Principles of Conduct; 
  • Administrative Action Guidelines; 
  • and Administrative Actions Guidelines Chart. 

The Board created the Association policy position and the D&I Committee led efforts to develop the accompanying documents to ensure that our position was clear, understandable, and useable. These included the IAWF Principles of Conduct and the IAWF Administrative Action Guidelines and Chart. 

Development of Policy: A clearly stated and definitive position on diversity and inclusivity was our first and most critical step in moving forward. As a result, the Association passed a resolution stating that diversity and inclusivity across gender, age, and all ethnicities would be a priority. A policy position paper was prepared and made available membership-wide and publicly (https://www.iawfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/IAWF-Diversity-and-Inclusion-Policy.pdf).

In this policy, IAWF reinforces its desire to maintain a positive, empowering, inclusive, and innovative culture where all members of the wildland fire community feel safe, valued, heard, and included. 

Development of Baseline Standards of Conduct: Once the policy was complete, the Board was determined to define baseline standards of conduct and behavior to clearly show our intent and meaning. These standards needed to be readily available and easily understandable. 

Principles of Conduct were completed for the Association that reinforce our commitment to the importance of the values of integrity, responsibility and reputation in the conduct of personal and professional matters. The Principles of Conduct define our accepted and unacceptable ethical behaviors and are viewed as mandatory. It is expected that all members and other participants at all IAWF professional activities will abide by them at all times. As such, these Principles are regulatory and will be used to guide management in ethical situations. 

Completion of these standards demonstrated IAWF’s respect for our profession, our professional and personal relationships with others, and our respect and commitment to the long-term vision, diversity and inclusivity goals, and values of the Association. They help ensure that IAWF promotes, achieves, and maintains high standards of practice. They provide a benchmark for members and non- members in future activities. IAWF Principles of Conduct can be found at: https://www.iawfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/IAWF-Principles_of_Conduct_FINAL.pdf.

Development of Administrative Action Guidelines and Chart: Once our standards of conduct were defined in the Principles of Conduct, it was necessary to develop a framework to guide any IAWF response actions to any instance of misconduct. An Administrative Action Guidelines Chart was prepared that describes incident severity in categories of minor, severity, and unacceptable.  It also provides a description of appropriate follow-up actions. The Administrative Action Guidelines describe the process to be followed once a report of misconduct is received. In this process, IAWF will review and document the complaint, define potential options, determine severity of the incident, and take appropriate action. Appropriate follow up actions are also defined in the Administrative Action Guidelines Chart.

Implementation of Solutions and Process Institutionalization: Any instance of misconduct, whether personally experienced, witnessed, heard of by word of mouth, or other means, should be reported. Reporting an instance of misconduct is the only way to ensure that the situation is made known, action can be taken, and changes can occur. If we are to effect change in culture and thinking, it is everyone’s responsibility to speak up. However, incident reporting is not easy and can be pervaded by feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, being judged, or singled out. Speaking up should not be something that is dreaded or limiting. 

Development of a Process for Reporting Inappropriate Incidents:  Common reporting methods such as face-to-face discussion, email, text messaging, telephone, and internet sites do not necessarily resolve the concerns stated above and have the potential to limit reporting. To properly address reporting, a system needs to be aligned with privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity, to enhance opportunities for reporting. 

In an effort to ensure safety and comfort of all members and participants at all times at IAWF events, we have recently joined with Spot (https://talktospot.com) to implement an anonymous reporting tool for IAWF as a mechanism for members and others to safely speak up, report, and document any incidents of inappropriate behavior and violations of the IAWF Principles of Conduct. Spot is a web-based app that is optimized for desktop and mobile devices, with a dashboard and management system for organization administrators. Spot meets all our concerns about a reporting system and has the advantages of being:

  • Available 24/7
  • An unbiased Artificial Intelligence (AI) – removes all unconscious bias
  • A single management tool that handles reporting, feedback, action, and documentation
  • Unlimited reporting
  • Reports comments and follow-up
  • A secure site
  • Anonymous – no identity required for follow-up – reporters can remain anonymous. If reporters choose to remain anonymous, their name and email will never be known by or reported to IAWF. 
  • Anonymous follow-up from IAWF to the reporter but the email of the originator remains anonymous. 
  • Spot allows users to create a report but submittal of the report is optional to the reporter. The details of what happened, when, and where, can be addressed with the unbiased, anonymous chat bot in the AI system. It allows IAWF to follow-up while the reporter can provide their name or remain anonymous. This system provides safety and security. 
  • Individuals filing a report can prepare a private report that they can choose to not send to IAWF and no one will ever see it but them. It is retained in the Spot system for one year in the event the reporter wants to send it later.

We are excited to add this capability to our efforts to encourage individuals to speak up and help reduce inappropriate behavior in our activities. 

IAWF has implemented Spot and individuals can reach it at the following link posted on the IAWF webpage at https://www.iawfonline.org/diversity-inclusion/ or by using the QR found on the Spot flyer on the IAWF webpage, an example of which is shown in Figure 2. 


Taking Appropriate Action – Enforcement: Once the Association position was clear, we needed to decide what to do about violations of those standards and how such violations would be addressed so that our Association could once again become safe, comfortable, respectful and inclusive for all IAWF members. The Administrative Actions Guidelines defined the process that IAWF will follow for reported instances of misconduct. Any Association responses to those instances are guided by an Administrative Actions Guidelines Chart. 

Administrative actions that IAWF may take will be commensurate with the determined incident severity and can range from discussion between the accused person and an IAWF official, reprimand, revocation of membership and expulsion from the Association, ban from IAWF conference speaking and/or attendance; or other disciplinary action. 

Moving Back into an Efficiently Functioning System. Once steps 1 – 5 are completed, as shown near the top left part of the chart in Figure 1, IAWF feels that we will have a greater ability to ensure a safe and comfortable IAWF workplace and event environment than ever before. With this, we will be able to move forward with our diversity and inclusivity goals.

Our Pathway to the Future

IAWF is very proud of its position on diversity and inclusivity. We want to identify the issues in the wildland fire community and take actions to change the culture, thinking, practice, and outcomes to create the most effective working environment in wildland fire management for all IAWF members. We want to see an appreciable decrease in negative behaviors and greater equity in workforce diversity and inclusivity in wildland fire management. The process described here can guide us through previously unaddressed issue areas. We feel that we are on a positive path and have the tools and capabilities to identify issues, resolve issues, communicate standards to our members, and take actions when appropriate. Much of this process will be a learning experience for us and will evolve as time moves on but getting a positive start is an important first step. 

Diversity and inclusivity will and should continue to garner greater importance. Awareness and promotion of diversity and inclusivity will make us better at what we do and strengthen professional wildland fire management.


Steelman, Toddi, and Karin Riley. 2018. From the Vice-President’s Desk: #METOO for the Wildfire Community. Wildfire: 27.3:4-5. https://www.iawfonline.org/article/from-the-vice-presidents-desk-metoo-for-the-wildfire-community/.


Tom Zimmerman (past president, IAWF) and Toddi Steelman (current IAWF president) served as co-chairs of IAWF’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee from 2018-2019, and Tom continues as co-chair. Mikel Robinson is executive director of IAWF.


Our Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has worked very hard to complete these initial steps for the association as the lead on nearly all efforts to date.  Their enormously productive efforts are yielding exceptionally important innovations and improvements and are helping further advance our position and capabilities.  IAWF would not be where it is at this point in time in regard to Diversity and Inclusivity without the combined efforts of all members of this committee (the full D&I Committee membership is listed at https://www.iawfonline.org/iawf-committee-members/).