Less than a quarter (23%) of the total police workforce in England and Wales is female, a 7% improvement on 10 years ago, according to Home Office figures. But with 45% of the UK’s working population being female, there is still some way to go if the Police Service is to reflect the communities it serves.
Force HR directors have argued that setting gender targets is immaterial. They claim effective career progression is the key to achieving true diversity, as little over one in 10 women (12%) reach police senior ranks of chief inspector and above.
Martin Tiplady, HR director at the Metropolitan Police, told Personnel Today: “The key issue is the ‘promotability’ of women throughout the organisation – how we can support and fast-track their development. This in turn will help with retention, not just the recruitment of women.”
The Met, the UK’s largest force employing more than 30,000 police officers, has doubled its numbers of female officers over the past five years – women now make up more than a third of new recruits and 22% of the overall workforce.
‘Extreme’ positive action
Tiplady said this was largely down to taking “positive action to the extremes”, including using advertising campaigns, roadshows, and follow-up phone calls to interested female applicants to boost numbers.
“We must continue to exploit positive action as much as we can. We cannot let targets alone take over,” he said.
The economically active population of women in London is 44%, but Tiplady said there was “no science” in aspiring to achieve this rate. “We have to work up to 44% over a period of time. If targets are too outrageous then they cease to be a target,” he said.
Getting there on merit
Rob Allan, director of HR at Suffolk Constabulary, said he was strictly against the setting of workforce targets.
“Forces would skew their intake to try to address the overall gender balance, which goes against equal opportunities. It is more important that everyone has the opportunity to join the police force irrespective of gender,” he said.
“Women want to feel they’ve got to the top on their own merit, not because of targets,” he added.
The director of personnel at West Midlands Police, David Williams, agreed that improving the working environment for women was crucial. “We are experiencing a major rebalance of gender in the workforce. The issue is not so much targets, but career progression. We’ve got to look at perceived barriers, and coaching and development programmes that can overcome them.”
West Midlands employs 2,400 women, which make up 30% of its workforce. Williams estimated that within six years’ time, this figure would rise to 40%.
“This is a critical time for developing the female workforce. The service has got to explore where it can be aligned with flexible working,” he said.
To improve female retention, the force is currently looking at providing new uniforms for expectant mums as their figure changes and ways of enabling mothers to feed their babies at work, he added.
However, The British Association for Women in Policing was in favour of targets to address the numerical imbalance. Liz Owsley, national co-ordinator, said force HR teams needed to improve career opportunities for women.
“A woman’s first few years are spent operationally, where the ratio of women to men is fairly comparative. Once they specialise, women are the obvious minority,” she said.
The Home Office has asked forces for their views on whether gender targets should be set by 18 February, with further consultation expected to take place after that.