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In 1914, the Women’s Police Volunteers organisation was formed in London. The then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police agreed that the women could patrol London on a voluntary basis. The number of female volunteers grew and in 1916 the Police Act made it possible for women to be appointed as constables. During the Second World War the number of female police officers multiplied and the number of women in policing has continued to grow ever since. The Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975 and ended the segregation of women officers who moved from a specialist body into the general police service in January 1976.

In 2012, there were over 36,000 female police officers and 45,000 staff in England and Wales. Seven of these women are leading police forces and many more are chief officers. To celebrate International Women’s Day, some of our female ACPO officers tell us about their careers in policing.

 


ACPO Women’s Forum lead, and Assistant Chief Constable in Bedfordshire, Katherine Govier

When and why did you join the police?

I joined in October 1982. It was something I had always wanted to do and I was motivated by some very clear personal values which, in simple terms, were to ‘deal with criminals and make the lives of the vulnerable better’. These values have stayed with me throughout my career. I often refer to them when talking to others about my motivations but also to reaffirm that what I am doing will contribute to those aims.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I have enjoyed the variety that my career has brought me. I have been privileged to have carried out many different roles and to have worked with many talented individuals. I am currently deriving great satisfaction from my role on the Strategic Command Course, helping aspiring chief officers to develop and be ready to take on demanding leadership roles in the future.

What do you find most challenging?

In recent years the biggest challenges we have faced have been financial: trying to balance budgets whilst at the same time maintaining and improving performance. We ask a lot of our people and I am constantly amazed by the extra effort that our staff put in, over and above what they are required to do, to keep our communities safe. Over the last two years my own force has been constantly re-structuring to meet these challenges and sadly that has meant some staff have lost their jobs. I think for many of us the operational challenges are easier to deal with than the human ones.

What is your experience of being a woman in policing?

When I joined it didn’t cross my mind that I might be treated differently and I have always had the mind-set that with hard work, I could achieve what I wanted. At times it has been hard, for example, continuing to work full time whilst having young children in the 1990s was a challenge because the organisation wasn’t used to women continuing to work.

I hope that I have been a good role model to other women and shown that you can achieve a balance in your working and private life. What I have learnt is that being the first to do something is very hard, but it is very important to have the energy to still reach back and help others along the path.

Do you think things have changed in terms of gender equality during your time in the police?

Things have changed hugely and for the better. I think it is also important to acknowledge that the genders will always have different needs, that we are different and don’t necessarily need everything to be the same. For example, the treatment of women who are pregnant. When I was a superintendent and eight months pregnant, I ran a firearms operation in the middle of the night from the back of the van! At the time I felt unable to ask for help and didn’t want to be viewed as different. I felt I needed to pull my weight. All I can say now is how silly was I? There is now an understanding that many men are carers and need the facilities of part-time working and flexible hours too.

In terms of operational equality, I would always encourage women to seek to achieve their dreams; it is only by being part of something that you can actually start to change it. Being a role model can feel lonely at times but it is immensely satisfying when what you do encourages others.

What more do you think the service needs to do attract and keep women in the service across all ranks?

We need to get to a stage where being a woman in the service doesn’t make you feel different. Things have changed a lot in my service. For example, about fifteen years ago I was very active in the Superintendents’ Association but for many years there was only one other woman in the country who was equally active. We would meet up at National Conference, two out of about two hundred delegates! That was quite lonely but the picture is so different now with the first female President Elect of the Association.

Women need to continue to be role models and bust a few myths, such as demonstrating that you can have a balance in your life and be in the police service. Women need to tell hopeful stories about themselves and their careers, build supportive networks and never believe that they can’t do something. It really is a fantastic career!

 


ACPO lead on migration and associated issues, and Assistant Chief Constable in Sussex and Surrey, Olivia Pinkney

When and why did you join the police?

I joined the police in 1991, straight from university. In truth, I joined 'for a bit' until a got a proper job (as my grandfather commented at the time). However, I quickly found a strong sense of vocation that has never left me.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The extraordinary variety of opportunities to really improve policing services for our communities, and to develop staff to be the very best they can be in delivering that service.

What do you find most challenging?

The professional aversion to risk which still exists in certain areas- we are brought up on evidence and aspiring to certainty, which means we can find it hard to take some bold steps or simply try something out and give it a go!

What is your experience of being a woman in policing?

It has been largely a very positive one. I have been fortunate to have managers who have encouraged me to be the very best I can.

Do you think things have changed in terms of gender equality during your time in the police?

Yes, but not enough. Any organisation that is lacking in diversity of all types will never benefit from the wider considerations and perspectives available, so, inevitably that remains a limiting factor for the service which we must all strive to address. Austerity is not an excuse!

What more do you think the service needs to do attract and keep woman in the service across all ranks?

We do pretty well at attracting women into the service at the moment but some specialisms are still sparsely populated with women and progression remains bumpy. We need good talent management programmes, good flexible working and buckets of active role models and mentors, mentors, mentors.

ACPO Women’s Forum runs a mentoring scheme to support women officers and staff progress to ACPO rank. Our mentors are women who have made it to ACPO rank or Assistant Chief Officer roles. They are ideally placed to guide others through the challenges ahead, helping them to gain recognition and improve their networking. Further details on the mentoring scheme can be found on the Hertfordshire Constabulary website .