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International Women’s Day 2022 – A blog by PSA Gender Lead, Supt Emma Richards

International Women’s Day – A blog by PSA Gender Lead, Supt Emma Richards

On a day that is about empowering and valuing women, I want to ask the question of what it means to be a female police officer.

I’m a strong, confident, independent woman who is extremely proud of my job, my family and my achievements.
 I’m also acutely aware of the ‘lens’ through which I have been viewed throughout life, and specifically throughout my career from PC to superintendent - a lens which is not the same for my male colleagues.
Being a woman in policing is a complex position to be in, and one that has changed radically over the 30+ years I have been in service. 

Our association recently surveyed our members to understand their experiences of misogyny and sexism in the workplace, and whilst the results were stark, they came as no surprise to me.  We heard repeated accounts of sexist ‘banter’ from day 1 in the job, ranging from fairly low level jokes, to derogatory sexual comments and even being given male names.
Almost all of those who responded said this was very acute when they joined, but that it had improved over the years and as they climbed the ranks, with some commenting that this was merely reflecting the attitudes of society.
Many shared experiences of being blocked from promotion because of starting a family or being advised not to seek promotion if they planned to have children.  At the very worst end, we heard accounts of sexual abuse by colleagues.

Now, our country is debating the safety of women and girls more than ever before, so this issue of self identity becomes even more complex.
We are the police, the protectors, yet we live in a society that is questioning our safety because of our gender, and we know that in extreme circumstances, our gender can put us at risk at work.
1 in 4 women suffer from domestic abuse, so as police officers, dealing with domestic abuse victims is tragically, a common part of the job. The experiences you see and hear are nothing short of harrowing.  
Within the Met, we recently shared the accounts of brave female colleagues who have been victims of domestic abuse themselves, explaining the added feelings of shame that can come with being a police officer in this position.

Our colleagues said:

“I was embarrassed. How can I - a police officer - let this happen to me? This is definitely not supposed to happen to me. I’m supposed to be stronger than that. I am supposed to enforce the law. I felt like a joke, an imposter - like I would be seen as weak by my colleagues.”
 “No one will believe me! I am a police officer and should be resilient and strong.  How can I say I am being abused when I have nothing to evidence this, no bruises, no cuts just emotional pain and trauma?”
 “I felt trapped like there was no escape for me. I wanted to drive my car into a ditch on my way home from work but wasn’t even brave enough to do that! That’s how I felt a failure, not good enough for love, not strong enough to get out of the situation I was in and not brave enough to die.”

It strikes me that for a long time, female police officers have fought battles on many fronts, to be given the same opportunities as their male colleagues, to prove a point to those who have doubted their ability to work whilst also being a mother, and to feel a need to hide any sign of vulnerability.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Break the Bias’, something our association is passionately behind when it comes to every protected characteristic.
Whether you believe that policing is a mirror of society and therefore full of the same ‘bias’ as our communities, or whether you believe that there are greater issues at play, breaking any bias must be our shared goal.
With almost half of new recruits nationally now female, and with the greatest number of female chief officers we’ve ever had, the picture is changing. It’s changing but it’s not becoming less complex. 

Every member of our service has their own story, their own vulnerabilities and their own unique qualities that make them who they are. This must be part of how we understand them as our people.  

We’re police officers, with everything else that sits behind the uniform.