Rebecca Wax Discusses Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Rebecca Wax was born and raised in New York City and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. She then went on to Hunter College, where she graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science.

She also obtained a B.S. in Fire Science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Rebecca has worked in Intergovernmental Affairs, Fire Prevention, and she has been a firefighter for over seven years. Rebecca worked as part of a group tasked with doing extensive research on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the fire service and identifying where the culture of the fire service needs to change.

What do you currently do at your company?

I am a firefighter. Firefighters do a lot more than just respond to and extinguish fires. Over the years, we have become the ones who are called for all kinds of emergencies when people need assistance quickly.  Typically, about a third or more of our responses are medical emergencies. Fire trucks can often get to a person in need of immediate medical assistance faster than an ambulance, so we can stabilize a patient until EMT’s or Paramedics can arrive on scene to treat and transport a patient to the hospital. Aside from fires and medical responses, which are two of our most important duties, we also respond to incidents such as gas leaks, car accidents, stuck elevators with people trapped inside, manhole emergencies, overhead electrical wire emergencies, fire alarm activations, water rescues, and much more.

What was the inspiration behind your line of work?

I have always wanted a career where I could help people.  Fire prevention and fire safety has been a longstanding interest of mine, and I find construction and layouts of buildings to be very interesting. The combination of those interests made firefighting an appealing career, and a rewarding one.

What defines your way of doing business?

In any job I’ve ever had, I have always strived to continue learning, and continually improve upon my skills. There is always more to learn. Everyone brings different life experiences to the table, so you can learn things from everyone. Treat others with respect, and always do your best to be patient and kind.  You never know what someone may be going through, so a little kindness goes a long way.

What keys to being productive can you share?

I am someone who always used to procrastinate, and I work well under pressure to get things done, but that was always a habit I knew I had to break.  I realized that sometimes the things you want to do least are the things you should do first, then when you complete that task, you feel more accomplished and everything else seems easier.   Prioritizing by importance, and by the things you enjoy the least, will make for a smoother and more enjoyable completion of your day.

Tell us one long-term goal in your career.

I would like to see more women and people of color (POC) join the fire service. When you work in a white male dominated field, you start to realize what you are doing isn’t about you, it is about making things better for those who come after you. Careers in the fire service are very rewarding, but also very difficult, because women and POC are often treated as outsiders. In the fire service, many firefighters think diversity is a problem and there is often a backlash to attempts to diversify a department. Many firefighters refuse to listen to studies that show diversity makes workplaces stronger and will make the fire service better. Changing this mindset will require a change in fire service culture, and for me, a long-term goal would be to see the fire service culture change enough to embrace diversity.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

Outside of work I take Aerial Circus classes, which I absolutely love. My favorite apparatus is the aerial silks, because it is challenging, it’s an incredible workout, and it’s also very artistic.   As an aerialist you can create your own sequences of skills, put them to music, and eventually begin to perform in front of an audience.  I’m not someone who usually enjoys being on video or performing in front of an audience, but on the silks, I find my creativity and desire to perform for people comes out. It’s strange to find an activity where I want to perform for an audience, but I couldn’t be happier with it.  I’m happy with my accomplishments on the silks so far, and I always look forward to learning new skills.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

I find that having a full life outside of work, one that is not connected to work, is the key. Many people in the fire service spend all their free time around other people in the fire service. And I suspect this is the same in other fields.  I find its healthier to do things in my free time that have nothing to do with work and spend time mostly with friends who work in different fields. Diversity in your friendships and activities is as important as diversity in the workplace, because it opens your world to new experiences, and gives you a break from the stresses of your work life.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

Never ever put something in writing (in an email or text message, etc.), that you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper. These days it’s much too easy for something to end up on the internet for everyone to see, so the best way to protect yourself, is to always be careful about what you put in writing.

What does success look like to you?

Success is never letting failure define you.  Everyone fails at something at one time or another in their life, and everyone makes mistakes.  Success means getting back up, trying again, always keep improving, and always learning from your mistakes.

What is one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with?

Sometimes the most logical direction for your career that everyone encourages you to go for may not be the right choice for you, and that’s okay. Be open to new opportunities and experiences that maybe you hadn’t considered before, no matter how unlikely it may seem for you to get there. Sometimes that position you always thought was interesting but totally out of your reach, is not as impossible as you might think. You just have to be patient and open to new ideas to obtain the experience you need to get there.