Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Career Trajectories of Women in Policing in Australia

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Career Trajectories of Women in Policing in Australia

Article excerpt

Foreword | At 30 June 2006, 23 percent of Australian police were women, almost double the percentage in 1996. Despite this change, the issues relevant a decade earlier remain today, namely difficulties in recruitment and deployment and the low representation of women within senior ranks. This paper examines the career paths of one cohort of police sworn in during 1991 in a number of jurisdictions, to examine what differences, if any, exist between the male and female personnel in terms of recruitment, rank attainment, departures and deployment. The findings indicate that recruitment of women in policing in Australia has generally doubled in the decade, but that a higher proportion of men than of women have attained the more senior ranks. Women, however, attained promotions more quickly than did men. Some states also had higher departure rates of female officers than others, and there are gender disparities in reasons for departure and in some areas of policing. National, continuous monitoring is required to track these trends, and research in greater depth is needed to investigate reasons for the differences identified between male and female police and between jurisdictions.

Judy Putt

General Manager, Research

The lack of women within the senior ranks of law enforcement agencies continues to be a problem in Australia as well as overseas. As the proportion of women in policing continues to increase over time, it should be anticipated that the number who occupy senior positions will also increase, albeit slowly. A preliminary examination of the career progression of a cohort of police from 1991 indicates, however, that a greater proportion of males have attained the higher ranks, although the few females who have done so have attained them faster than their male counterparts.

Baxter and Wright (2000) found that substantial increases in female police numbers are necessary in order to achieve small increases in the numbers of women in senior management. Increasing female numbers alone is not, however, an assurance of increased female numbers in management positions; this will require efforts to ensure specifically that women be given the opportunities to learn to become competent managers (Etter 1996).

Although writing at a time when the role of women in policing was more restricted, Van Velsor and Hughes (1990) found that female police managers did not obtain the diversity of experience that their male counterparts did, tending to impede their promotional prospects. A study of women in the United States also found that women were over-represented in community and administrative policing roles while under-represented in various specialist areas (Van Velsor & Hughes 1990). Similar problems of under-representation of women in policing exist in England and Wales. Although the proportion of female police officers rose from 16 percent in 1998 to 23 percent in March 2007 (Ford 2008)- a 44 percent relative increase over the decade- the same cannot be said of those in the higher ranks.

For example, in relation to senior (in Australia, commissioned) officers, the proportion of females is small both in England and Wales (as of 2004: Christopherson & Cotton 2004) and in Australia (as of 2006), with only eight percent of senior officers being female in both countries.

In Australia, there was a 70 percent increase in the overall proportion of women in policing in the period 1996 to 2006, considerably higher than the 44 percent increase in England and Wales over a similar period. Currently, exactly the same proportion (23%) of police officers in England and Wales and in Australia are female.

The present study sought to track the careers and deployment of one cohort of officers in Australia over time, to establish the extent of the problem of restricted career progression. Early results indicate that no such problem necessarily exists, with the exception of deployment in major crime, investigative, and traffic areas. …

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