Historically, the police force has been known to be white, male, politically conservative and heterosexual, a perception which made it difficult for women, ethnic and racial minorities to consider a career in policing. With the implementation of equal opportunity legislation and changes towards multiculturalism, some police organisations aim at recruiting a more diverse force to improve their relations with the community. […]
Although some police organisations in countries such as the UK and the Netherlands have implemented diversity policies, the level of diversity within police organisations across Europe as a whole is still low. According to a 2012 study, women continue to represent a small percentage of uniformed and armed police officers in Europe.
In 2006, the British Association for Women in Policing (BAWP) suggested that a target for female police officers of 35% is both feasible and necessary in order to achieve gender diversity in police organisations. In most European countries, women were not allowed to join the uniformed and armed police force until the 1970s. In the 1980s many police organisations in Europe changed their recruitment approaches to reach more women. Equal employment opportunity legislation and increased societal interest in gender equality fuelled these advancements. In the context of policing, gender equality means that women and men have equal opportunities in the provision, management and oversight of the institution and that the different security needs of women, men, girls, and boys are addressed. In Switzerland, the Federal Act on Gender Equality (1995) fosters the integration of gender equality in organisations.
Gender equality in the police workforce is imperative because women bring different talents and skills. Research on women in policing has underlined some primary valuable qualities that female police officers bring to the workforce and these are:
- Female police officers bring additional knowledge in understanding and responding to the different security needs of diverse members in a community.
- Female police officers report violent crimes against women and domestic violence cases more frequently. Moreover, in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases, a victim might feel more comfortable speaking to a woman; not having enough female police officers available will affect police investigation.
- Female police officers are less likely to use excessive force, appear less authoritarian in their approach to policing and make larger use of their interpersonal skills to defuse violent situations. These qualities improve organisational culture and increase public trust.
[…] [However] some studies suggest that female police officers experience higher levels of stress due to sexual harassment and gender bias and these stressors impede job satisfaction and foster low retention rates for women. Other reasons why underrepresented police officers leave are dissatisfaction with organisational policies, inadequate options for childcare and lack of support from leadership. Lastly, police organisations that do succeed in hiring diverse police officers struggle to retain them because they tend to leave the force earlier in their careers. The main reasons are that women and police officers with a migration background often face discrimination and an unwelcoming organisational culture.
To enhance workforce diversity, police organisations should eliminate discrimination when aiming at improving recruitment, selection and retention. Moreover, it is vital that diversity policies go beyond symbolic efforts. Hiring quotas, for example, can be counterproductive. One reason is that “quota” police officers can experience increased performance pressure and feelings of exposure or isolation. Enforcing an inclusive police culture through mutual respect and equal participation at all levels is more meaningful and a better contributor to diversity, which in the long run will attract diverse applicants.
Read the full article on “Enhancing Diversity in the Police Workforce: Challenges and Opportunities”.