21 August 2001

ACC Julie Spence

Good morning.  To those of you who don’t know me, I am Julie Spence and it has been my pleasure to chair the very professional group of women officers who have developed the Gender Agenda.


Firstly a big welcome to the largest ever event in the history of policing where so many people from Constable to Chief Constable, together with key opinion-formers, have come together to consider the issues that disproportionately affect women officers, and to positively consider the way ahead.


In the audience today we have:-


Representatives from Home Office and non-Home Office forces (including officers of all ranks, Police Authority members, and Personnel and Equal Opportunities Managers).


Representatives from key opinion-forming bodies - ACPO, the Superintendents’ Association, the Federation, the Black Police Association, the Lesbian and Gay Police Association, the Home Office, National Police Training, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Police Scientific Development Branch, the Women’s National Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.


Also present are Sir Alistair Graham, the Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, Dame Rennie Fritchie, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and guests representing other organisations interested in the Gender Agenda.


It is great to see you all here - when we started to organise this launch it was a day for celebration when we realised the levels of support we were receiving meant we could cancel the telephone box we had initially booked!


The overwhelming message from the response is that the Service is serious about starting a dialogue and tackling the issues raised by the Gender Agenda.




1.              Raise your awareness of the Gender Agenda and the issues which disproportionately affect women officers.  [It is not about women’s issues per se because we believe that addressing the Gender Agenda will have benefits for female officers, support staff and men.]


2.             Knowing we all absorb information in different ways we intend to raise your awareness by assaulting your senses - the music has been carefully selected for its positive message -  In “Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves” (which you have just heard) the key message is that “Yes” women officers have developed the Gender Agenda but, as the music buffs amongst you will know, Annie Lennox could not have achieved the performance she did without Dave Stewart.  The agenda is pro-women but NOT anti-men, and we recognise that many men support and endeavour to understand the dilemmas faced by minority groups (and women in particular) and that not all women do.


There will also be drama interludes, poetry to inspire and, for the traditionalists, good old speeches from myself, Home Officer Minister Bob Ainsworth, and Professor Jennifer Brown.  There will also be a Question and Answer session with key players who can help take the Gender Agenda forward.




·       A group of us (namely Action E, a national equal opportunities group) decided the time had come for a radically different approach to the women officers’ agenda.  For years we had sought to progress the broad equal opportunities issues in the hope of a consequent improvement in the position of women officers.  However, this approach has only partially worked as the development and integration of women remains too slow.  Women are still disproportionately represented in the specialisms and ranks and the organisation has yet to develop systems and attitudes which consistently make women who achieve upward or lateral mobility feel it was achieved because of their ability rather than their gender.


Let me share some facts and views which you may or may not have considered:-

·       It has taken 20 years for women to move from 8% to 16% of police strength.


·       Women are over-represented in the Constable rank but do we value their contribution?  A brief examination of commendations in my force showed women were in receipt of only 10% of the commendations.  [Expect nearer 20%]  We have to question what behaviours we value?  - Do we give primacy to risk taking, or could that be fool-hardy, behaviour?


·       In the Police Complaints Authority Annual Report 2000/2001 - Sir Alistair Graham’s press statement illustrates some of the behaviours women have to endure and their impact on public confidence.  Under the title

Sexual assaults and harassment , he states:-

In the 1997/98 annual report the Authority said that some male officers displayed an outdated and unacceptable attitude towards women and that a few are prepared to betray their position of trust for personal sexual gratification.

He continued ... The PCA regret to report that some male officers’  behaviour continues to damage the reputation of the police service.  We see it not only in the cases that we supervise and review, but also in the reports of tribunals hearing claims brought by women working in the service.  Allegations of harassment and sexual assault go to the core of confidence in policing.  If women cannot trust the police officers on whom they call for protection, who can they trust?


The Federation would endorse that they encounter unacceptable pockets of behaviour on a regular basis.  We must address these unacceptable attitudes and behaviours for both the sanity of women officers and to ensure public confidence in policing.


The Organisation has also had an attack of complacency, believing that 3 women Chief Constables and 15 Assistant Chief Constables, indicates that women can achieve so things must be ok:   understandable but not sustainable if we look below the surface - achieving as a member of a minority group is as tough as ever.


Is the Police Service institutionally sexist?  There are pockets of sexism but the majority are not deliberately sexist; however, there is evidence of well intentioned and well meaning working practices which have unintended consequences, e.g. breakfast meetings which result in children being abandoned in school playgrounds a hour before necessary so that Mums (and Dads) can make the meeting.  These have resulted from a failure to understand the issues fully or to look at things from a different perspective, or even to realise there was another perspective.


The Agenda does, however, recognise that the Service has made considerable strides forward and is at the forefront of progress on equality and fairness; when was the last time you heard of a national private sector conference like this?  But there is still some way to go to put our fine policies (which we have in good measure) into action (which is not always apparent).




An illustration of progress can be found in a letter from a Chief Constable in October 1920 re: application of a woman officer to transfer to another force.  I quote:-

“... I have not the slightest doubt about her ability and general character, which are both excellent, but I would have appreciated her interest in police work the better had she steered clear of those, who perhaps not out and out Suffragists, have pronounced views on ‘womens rights’.

I think she is a manageable sort ............ You can never tell what a woman will do or is up to until you try her in the shafts, and if she does kick over the traces, then fire her; that’s what I do here.           Yours truly.


After 81 years I think I can say, with confidence, that Chief Constables have moved forward!!




·       Women are different and must not be stereotyped, albeit common themes can be developed.


·       Each individual has different needs and perspectives.


·       Women officers are single/married; have children/no children; have caring responsibilities/no caring responsibilities; have support networks/no or limited support networks.


·       They have different ambitions - to do better in their current role; to get recognition for their role; to gain promotion; to move to a specialist department.


·       We recognise that black and gay women have a double jeopardy and feel greater pressures because they are a member of two distinct minority groups.  Not all the issues are yet fully understood and research is currently underway to help with this - we must engage with both groups to ensure their perspectives are taken into account.

 One issue is clear - black women are not well represented in the ranks and it is their lack of progress that is impacting on the figures for black officers.  Indeed, the progress of black and white men is very similar.


Anecdotal evidence from black women supports the view that a lot of effort is expended on just surviving, never mind promotion.


·       We must not expect women to be like men; they talk, prioritise, make decisions, interact and make judgements differently.  This is so apparent at the Senior Women Officers’ Conference.  Women share experiences and many are relieved as they realise the problems they are enduring are because they think and act differently and their dilemmas with the male-created environment in which they operate are quite normal and shared by others.





The business and police worlds are male dominated - this is not a criticism, nor a condemnation - it is a reality.  The male mind designed the police infrastructure.  It wasn’t that they ignored or disliked what women had to say - rather that few women were around to help.  Society has created a division of labour; however, those boundaries are now blurred as women extend into the workplace and men extend into the home world.  The more that men are involved in child care the healthier children may become, just as we will have healthier organisations the more women are involved.  Increased heterogeneity (or diversity) is likely to lead to better solutions in all walks of life for everyone.


·       We also believe that there are two things which hold women back:-


i)              Firstly, processes, systems, attitudes - many are enunciated in the Gender Agenda, e.g. long hours culture, lack of flexible thinking on flexible working, long courses, dated stereotypes and myths, and policy development excluding the female perspective; and


ii)            Secondly, women themselves - 7 out of 10 will under score their abilities and believe they need to be perfect before advancing; we are not natural risk takers and often need a jolt to move outside our comfort zones - this is exacerbated by isolation (be that geographic location, specialist post, or rank).  When you are one of a few you work hard to be accepted as part of the team - to be different is difficult.  We do not always understand the organisation’s rules or seek to understand them.  Frequently women do not believe in their own capabilities and therefore underperform and fail to achieve their potential.


Can I say to senior colleagues present that women have not cracked the confidence barrier just because they are Chief Inspectors or Superintendents, as several tried to tell me when we were allocating places for the Leadership and Management Course - Women in these ranks need support and encouragement to achieve their potential:  can I assure you that potential is considerable and needs exploiting.


The working principles adopted by the Executive Group of the Gender Agenda sought to ensure that the agenda:

·       maintained its focus on issues for women officers

·       challenged tradition, myth, and  discrimination

·       identified potential solutions

·       ensured arguments are evidence based

·       explained and created understanding of issues facing women


Having developed our 5 aims (which you will see in the document and rolling on the screen), each was broken down into:

·       real barriers to progress

·       action to break down barriers

·       positive initiatives forces are taking

·       examples of bad practice - things to be avoided


We wanted to make sure the agenda would make a positive contribution from the outset and also have the capability to be built on further as the issues are progressed.



We believe we have created a quality product;  I am not able to discuss all the issues contained in the document but I would like to start the dialogue and challenge some areas of current thinking.


1.    Recruitment

In this time of recruitment challenge there is a large percentage of the population we have not yet fully tapped (44% of the economically active population are women, and 55% of ethnic minority women are similarly in paid employment).


We need to make policing a career choice for women.


·       In so doing we need to actively change the image of the Service to ‘BRAINS NOT BRAWN’.  In Thames Valley our “use of force” figures show force is only used or threatened in 3% - 5% of incidents and assaults on officers are falling.  We are a thinking service, focused on problem solving and mental agility not force and physical strength.


·       We need to target our recruitment campaigns towards different market segments - we cannot necessarily expect women to be attracted to the same recruitment approaches which attract men; BUT by no means am I suggesting the segmentation should be as basic as men/women.  I acknowledge the new Home Office recruitment campaign which is targeting potential ethnic minority recruits and women.  Although I have not yet seen it, it seems a step in the right direction.  I do, however, question the appeal Lennox Lewis will have for black and Asian women, but time will tell.


·       We should encourage rejoiners but I question the common requirement that rejoining after a set period (varies from 2 - 5 years) requires a return to training school.  15 weeks away is an inhibitor to those with caring responsibilities.

When have you seen other professions returning to training school?

Barristers to pupillage?

Social workers to university? 0r

Doctors to medical school?


What we need is bespoke training to ensure professional competency is maintained or quickly regained.


·       Women disproportionately fail fitness tests ....... I know research is currently looking at tests - but why do we need them?  The current focus is on fit to join not fit to be in the Service as there are no retests.  Why not move to health screening .... heart attack potential is surely more important than upper body strength.

Anyway, what is fitness?  What about mental fitness and our ability to withstand the stresses of the job?  Surely mental fitness is important with the current impact of stress on sickness levels, medical pensions and civil claims.


·       Just increasing the percentage of women will not in itself result in greater proportions of women in specialisms and the ranks.  We can learn from  the advertising industry, where women are 49% of employees but only 22% of the senior positions and only 9% of management.  60 - 70% fail to return after their second child because of the inflexibility and lack of support.  Very few women are found in the creative departments; this has resulted in a laddish culture and rising public concern about sexism in adverts.  Echoes of the police service?  The key issue = increasing numbers alone is not the answer to increasing numbers in the ranks - however, increasing numbers in departments can, potentially, reduce sexist behaviour.


Another key issue is:-

2.    Part Time Work

83% of the economically active women work part time; therefore if we want to attract women we need to take a more positive stance towards part time work - part time is not part able or part committed.


Research by the Industrial Society found that 7 out of 10 managers adhering to less traditional working practices were out-performing their full time colleagues in terms of their outputs; they also achieved more than they had done when they worked full time.


Job sharing is particularly efficient - 70% of executives in job share had a 30% higher output than 1 person doing the same job.


Flexible workers scored higher in resilience, leadership, problem solving and commitment than their full time colleagues.


3.    Balanced CVs

Another area we need to question is:

Question:  Do women officers get the chance to develop a balanced CV so they are able to compete for jobs on a level playing field?


I am sure some senior officers (male and female) still have difficulty seeing women in some roles, e.g.  leading major operational events - that’s the way we have been socialised and it is because it is not the norm; it is no different to sitting on an aeroplane ready for your long awaited holiday and the pilot comes on - it’s a woman - Oh no! - then you rationalise - she’s done all the training, she’s been a co-pilot, and anyway when was the last time a plane crashed and a woman was at the controls?  A male voice, because it is the norm, is automatically given a professional status even though he might be overweight and very likely to have a heart attack on the trip and crash the plane.


Women have to prove themselves and this is why you frequently hear them say that they have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as their male colleagues.


It takes positive rationalisation to stop irrational judgements being made - we need more positive rationalisation until women in charge of major events, or performing roles currently performed predominantly by men, are the norm.

The next issue is:

4.    Equipment

Suitability for women in specialist roles is assessed on their ability to use unsuitable equipment.  Thus they are excluded from specialist roles (too large gun grips, too large motor cycles) - there are suitable replacements but few forces purchase them.


We also need to look at other more subtle discriminators - why do door openers need brute force - surely there is different and more suitable equipment to open doors?


The “one size fits all” approach to equipment must be questioned - how can it be effective or safe?


Research has already shown that because men and women are built differently carrying equipment around the waist is not necessarily the most appropriate for women. 


Women need the right equipment to do a professional job and should not be made to use equipment designed for men.


Another issue is:

5.    Course Length

Course length can be an inhibitor to women’s attendance and development of potential, e.g. Strategic Command Course, initial recruitment training, CID training and Traffic courses all require long periods away from home.  We acknowledge the efforts National Police Training are putting into making the Strategic Command Course more family friendly next year.  We need to develop and extend this thinking to other courses.


Believing transparency in selection and saying officers have a free choice whether to put themselves forward for specialist posts or promotion is not sufficient.  Other barriers which stop women putting themselves forward must be examined.  An apparently free adult choice is no choice if you have no one to look after your children or elderly parents for 6 weeks or 6 months.


6.    Women’s Perspective on Key Policy Making Bodies needs to be addressed.

If strategies and policies are not shaped by men and women, the thinking and decision making processes will not benefit from all the brain power, insights and judgements available.


However, do not assume that the chosen or token woman will represent the women’s perspective without proper briefing as to her role.  Nor should the presence of women abrogate those around the table from endeavouring to understand the female perspective.


N.B.  Policies can be gender-proofed by using the Cabinet Office Gender Impact Analysis tool (available on their website) - so there is no excuse for all male teams.




7.    Networking is an important area on which we will produce a factsheet.


We must encourage male networking, female networking and mixed networking.  Its value is that it allows information sharing, professional development and support.


Male and mixed networking happens automatically by dint of numbers.  However, the Organisation has to facilitate women’s networking, and market the positive dimensions to minimise backlash, because women do not have the traditional and existing opportunities which men have.  Minimising the backlash in practical terms means giving the answers to questions posed (most frequently by men), such as:- 


·       Where is the equality if we allow you to meet with other women - what about men?

·       It could be detrimental to you if your male colleagues think you are being treated differently/more favourably.

·       Don’t you get on with your male colleagues?


Women know there are good answers but feel on the backfoot when answering.  Some will give up, thinking “I don’t need this hassle”, and carry on making it on their own .... which is hard work.


We must outlaw the philosophy of the ‘old boys network’ which many women and men find distasteful, i.e. where business decisions are made and favours granted in social situations.


We must adopt the principle that networking is social, supportive and fun whilst key business decisions are made in policy meetings in the business environment only.


And finally:-


8.    Inhibitors to Women Achieving Their Potential

The main inhibitor to women achieving their potential is not difficult to change and costs very little.  The Leadership and Management Development courses we have been running for Inspectors/Chief Inspectors/and Superintendents have found that women lack support and encouragement from their supervisors.  (This is also backed up by research).


Women need to ask for support and encouragement more than they do but they also need encouragement to ask.


Positive action is important but it must be explained - women will not take the opportunity if there is going to be a backlash from their colleagues.  It is tough if you are a member of a minority group and you get something that you need but which is not available to the majority of your workmates.


...........Nobody said it was going to be easy.





The future is bright BUT we must move from our current ONE SIZE FITS ALL approach to THE DEVELOPMENT OF POTENTIAL.