Petticoat Policing

6 Jul

Being Diversity Lead on the Authority isn’t quite all I thought and if there is one area I feel frustrated I haven’t achieved more in, I would choose the progression of women and more women joining operational units. The police is still seen as a male orientated world and this isn’t surprising. Look at crime watch and nearly all the appeals are made by male detectives, look at the ACPO (Chiefs of Police) profile and again, it is depressingly male. Thus, the public face of policing is male and this is why I spend too much of my time correcting people who say ‘Policeman’ rather than ‘Police Officer’. It isn’t pedantic – it is embarrassing for policing to still have this gender specific dimension. The women at my daughter’s nursery said ‘Oh thanks to you a Policeman is coming to visit’ in front of the kids. I corrected this as always. Because I want my daughter growing up believing that policing is an option for her.

Beyond that I want her to think Operational Policing is for her, should she choose it. This is a complete change of mindset for me and I was a bit staggered to be chosen as lead for Public Order and Firearms (it could be my own fault for asking so many questions). I also wondered if this was a cynical move to have a female authority member giving credibility to sections of the service which have a genuine problem with their gender balance. However, I rolled my sleeves up and tried to learn and understand both their work  and their motivations. I felt that scrutiny should be as close to the front line as possible and did my best to get to know the teams, the training, and the work.

I am not going to dwell on public order as much is changing there with more and more women opting to train. Although I was depressed to read in the Guardian’s ‘Reading the Riots’ reports female officers couldn’t have toilet breaks due to their one piece suits. (REALLY!? We can get stuff to Mars, but we can’t design clothing women can get to the toilet in?!)

I am going to ‘pick on’ firearms and roads policing here. For many forces it is almost entirely the preserve of men. There are some things I have learned and observed.

I was extremely anxious around firearms and didn’t want to handle them at all. I don’t know why, it is just how I felt. They are no more dangerous without bullets in than a hammer but just the look of them means ‘danger’ to me. The trainers that worked with me were not at all fazed by this and were really encouraging. They said, this is the best attitude to start off with and we can build your confidence but you must have respect for the potential of this kit. Indeed by the end of my next training session I was able to use a simulator which they use to test officers on and I was accurate and had good decision making times. This exercise completely changed me, I realised that I enjoyed the decision making framework and the perfectionism of the training. I felt that if I were to join the police I would probably join firearms as I would appreciate both the discipline and perfectionism, the absolutes of skills. Its an area where you know exactly where your skills rank to the milisecond and the milimetre. I have observed Silver Command and also, had taser training. I really liked the skill, teamwork and dynamic decision making.

I was ‘dragged’ out by a female friend who works on Roads Policing which again is highly male dominated, to stand in the hail and see the drink-drive interventions firsthand. Though I knew it was male dominated it is still quite strange to walk into it. Saying that, the team are fantastic, completely fun and welcoming and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to women. I know my friend adores it. Again, it is the world of the black and white and not many shades of grey! But, people skills and empathy are essential. The collisions we saw that night involved people who needed reassurance and compassion and I felt my friend provided that amply. She also, quite happily picks up a broom to clear stuff off the road too!

If the police is truly to be ‘for the people and of the people’ the final stretch in gender equality needs to be achieved. The men within the police, especially in leadership positions are the solution to this. They are bright resourceful guys and I think they have all the tools they need to crack this, if they want to. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Select good pioneers to join units they may not have considered, not alone! In groups. Women who are good networkers and able to bring to life their positive experiences in operational policing. Then let them do that.

Give generously of your experience in helping women have the confidence to access promotion, but don’t try to turn them into you. Let them be the leader they are.

Deal with the hygiene factors, kit, facilities, rotas that might be barriers for women. Does a strategic leader need to work full-time? Really, they can’t work 4 days usually? Challenge every assumption about these sort of ‘necessities’ for the post! If women aren’t getting through boards, perhaps you are asking the wrong questions! If your selection process isn’t getting the people you want, maybe there is something wrong with the process rather than the people?

Never stop dealing with gender inequality in policing – don’t put it on the back burner. Don’t think well we have a few more women in senior management, we are done here. Don’t accept less than full equality. Policing is all about fairness and justice. Until policing is a fair, just career for women – this work isn’t done.


6 Responses to “Petticoat Policing”

  1. Heather Keating July 6, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Interesting read I have 24years service with Sussex police and loved every minute of it. Can’t say I have ever felt I have been treated unfairly , any barriers I have experienced have been those I created myself as a mother of 2 and the usual desire to do both jobs to the best of my ability . Worked part time for a few years but didn’t find rewarding , never really examined why! Recently qualified as a firearms commander and found the firearms team very welcoming but I can see why women wouldn’t want to carry a firearm . Despite many looking at why women are not queuing up to join firearms teams we don’t have the answer . Things are far better now than when I joined when women really were in the minority. Times of change or times are changing. Women’s leadership skills are needed as we move forward . Heather Keating. DIstrict Commander.

  2. catemoore July 7, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    This is such a big subject and the one I have struggled with above all others throughout my adult life. One of the things I liked about the Police was the male orientated environment yet it was a great hindrance to me also. It is my ultimate conundrum for which I have no answers. Yet.

    On a pedantic note, I agree with the use of the words Police officer, whilst also happy with Policeman if the gender is known. What I don’t hear much of these days but I’d like to, is Policewoman. In seeking gender equality we don’t have to merge the sexes. Let’s celebrate our strengths and support each others weaknesses.

  3. Ian Chisnall July 7, 2012 at 2:09 am #

    Emma, your challenge is something we need to take seriously, as much because of the modelling you refer to as to the benefit (in my eyes) of having mixed teams in as many areas as possible. However we also need to consider the comments by Heather. There are many areas where the glass ceiling is partly due to the decisions that women take as well as due to barriers created by men. The PCC role is a classic example. The numbers of Independent women standing is very low, yet there is no extra barrier that I am aware of for deter women from standing.

  4. Jason Tingley July 7, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Really enjoyed your blog Emma and accept that there is still work to do around representation of women within some areas. What I have been really encouraged by during my 22 years service is the transformation we have made in areas such as CID investigations. In the early 90’s I remember one or two women detectives working in a male dominant environment with little or no opportunity for this to be increased (not quite Life On Mars but not far from it). Now there is greater representation, for example at Brighton approx a 50/50 split in what is recognised as a specialist post. There has also been great progress made in the world of surveillance, intelligence and serious organised crime, and in my opinion the teams are so much better for it. I recently attended a Leadership Development Programme for Chief Inspectors and police staff equivalent. The external facilitator commented that she had not experienced the levels of representation of women in other public or private sector organisations before as she had within Sussex Police. Work to do but in a pretty good place.

  5. Jane Batcheler July 7, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    I am a reponse Sergeant in Hastings and have been part of Sussex Police for 19 years. I am the only female Sgt in my role in both Hastings and Rother.
    I personally have never experienced any form of discrimination or barrier in that 19 years but I do sometimes wonder if the problems that some women face are in part created by the failings of others.
    This is a tough job, and there are rough bits, and I have never shied away from them but I do know that I have my own personal strengths and weaknesses and as in any job, I play to those – I am not as strong as some of my male colleagues but I will ‘get stuck in’ and in most cases that’s all my colleagues need to be assurred of , that in a tough spot the officers with them, be they male or female will do their part. But don’t look to me to look after babies or children, I’ve never had kids and in that respect most of the guys that I have worked with have more experience in that area !
    I dont have the answers as to why more women aren’t going for promotion, but I hope that I’m showing that it can be done, and done well, and with respect of my team . But at the end of the day, I just want to be a good Police officer .

  6. tb (@tonyblaker) July 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    As requested…. In Ops Dept we have a plan to try and actively deal with the unconscious bias that may prevent women (and other minority candidates), from successfully securing posts. We trialled the plan with roads policing selection, which saw 13 women and about 40 men apply for 12 posts. By quality assuring any decision that de-selected a woman and when a candidate withdrew asking why, we ended up with 6 out of 12 appointed being women. There was some good learning about hidden barriers such as low confidence about driving skills and perceptions about the role that we worked through successfully. I think that its about more than getting men not actively discriminating, but trying to understand why women and others feel put off by a team / workplace that isn’t thinking about joining as a minority member. You just have to think a bit harder to tip the balance, because once there is a balanced team the problem melts away as in CID as Tingles says…..I believe that if we want a successful organisation then we need to harness all of the talented people regardless of gender, etc

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