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Improve Operations by Recruiting Female Officers, Part 3

To develop a positive work environment for female officers, it is critical that departments have executive support for increasing the number of female officers and supervisors, utilize sponsors who advocate for ‘high-potential’ employees, conduct an assessment of the organizational culture, and develop a strategic plan for leading change and increasing female representation.

The critical first step to creating a positive work environment and increasing the number of female officers and leaders is to have the support of the chief executive. Without the expressed recognition and support of the chief executive to enhance diversity, particularly of women, the agency will never move beyond its current situation. 

The use of sponsors is very effective in enhancing the number of females in supervisory positions. Sponsorships are close relationships between supervisors/managers who advise and advocate for individuals with high potential. Skip-level sponsorships involve leaders sponsoring individuals two levels below them in the organization. This approach enables agencies to avoid situations in which direct supervisors do not want to lose a great employee or may be intimidated by high-performing subordinates.

The third step to creating a positive environment is to conduct an assessment of the organizational culture to highlight positive aspects as well as identify problems adversely affecting the department’s ability to attract female officers. To accomplish this, the department must use a variety of techniques to accurately assess the agency as well as embedded myths, biases, obstacles to attracting and promoting females. In the end, this information will provide the foundation for creating a strategy to address critical issues. There are a number of issues that should be evaluated.

How many females does the department collectively employ as well as the percentages assigned to specialized, supervisory, and command positions? 

Is the agency able to demonstrate how female officers have been able to progress into critical positions at the same rate as males?

When and why are female employees leaving the department or failing to seek opportunities within the organization? Assessors should be careful to not assume women are leaving to start families. Private organizations have found this belief to be misleading. In reality, they were leaving because of the organizational culture. In addition, department leaders should never characterize child care as a ‘woman’s issue.’ With the evolving roles in the traditional family, leaders must identify and treat these as ‘family issues.’

Are women treated differently than men? A superficial assessment may suggest all employees have access to the same opportunities. To properly evaluate this issue, however, it is important to dedicate sufficient resources to surveying and interviewing female employees. Conducting a confidential survey of incumbent female officers often highlights perceptions that can be investigated more closely in personal interviews or group discussions. As part of this process, it is important to examine how females perceived to have been treated during recruiting and selection processes.  

In addition, issues regarding treatment once they were employed should also be examined. One national survey found female officers reported they joined agencies because the job provided them an opportunity to help people, diversity in their daily work, and excitement. But once they were hired, they felt they were treated worse or less welcomed than their male counterparts.

Issues that may be identified include sexual harassment, opportunities for assignments, and perceived differences in treatment. Specific behaviors that demonstrate a lack of respect could include supervisors interrupting, talking over, or failing to acknowledge female officers’ contributions or demonstrating a lack of support, respect, or latitude.

Review recruiting materials and processes. Are women prominently displayed in recruiting materials such as websites, pamphlets, and posters? Does the department have any initiatives focused on attracting female candidates? Why is the agency not able to attract more female candidates at the same rate as males? What succession management efforts does the agency have in place to identify ‘high potential’ for specialized, supervisor, management, and executive positions? 

Finally, to effectively attract female candidates, it is imperative the agency create a strategic plan that focuses on enhancing the number of female officers. To successfully develop this plan, the agency must include a diverse segment of the organization. In addition, it is critical to employ the assistance of community representatives, educational institutions, marketing professionals, as well as finance and human resources personnel.

Prior to the meeting, objective data should be developed on the cost of employee attrition, benefits female officers bring to the profession, perceived organizational problems, obstacles to recruiting and retaining candidates, and future needs of the department.

In the end, changing the organizational environment is difficult and takes time. The strategic plan should outline how the department will create a positive work environment for all employees as well as a comprehensive, aggressive, and focused recruiting program with short, intermediate and long-term goals. Each goal should include enabling objectives as well as metrics to measure progress and deadlines. 

As the project progresses, leaders must identify the reasons any goals/objectives are not being met and make the necessary adjustments. In the end, specific individuals must be held accountable for meeting the established goals. Otherwise, the plan will simply be ignored and change will not occur.

More than ever before, law enforcement agencies are faced with greater challenges at an alarming rate. Organizations that embrace diverse perspectives are able to provide more comprehensive, flexible, and innovative responses to these challenges. Failure to recognize and focus on the need to attract greater numbers of female officers who fit with the agency will likely have long-term repercussions on the departments’ ability to respond to challenges of the 21st



To successfully attract these candidates, it is critical the organization recognizes the unique contributions women bring to the workplace and develop a positive and supportive work environment for them.


Dwayne Orrick has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. This includes chief of police in a medium-size city and the rank of major in one of the nation’s largest sheriff’s departments. He can be contacted at

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2015

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