In the United States, law enforcement is a male-dominated career or profession, especially in the FBI, as women have, for years, been underrepresented. This has been done despite studies showing that female police officers possess the ability to have a positive impact on the entire department’s performance and communities. For instance, women officers are more likely to evade accusations of unwarranted force. This paper looks at the underrepresentation of women in law enforcement, theoretical explanations on the topic and how to fix the situation.
Women are greatly underrepresented in many sectors, but the one that most stands out is law enforcement. Females in 2000 consisted for fourteen percent of line posts, ten percent of supervisory positions and seven percent of top command spots (Batton & Wright, 2019). Small and rural police departments have even less women officers, seldom supervisors or sworn officers (Batton & Wright, 2019). Nevertheless, the figures have witnessed an increment from seven in 1987 to almost twelve percent in 2007 in local departments (Batton & Wright, 2019). In the latter year, nearly seven percent of state police officers comprised women, in contrast to four percent in 1987 (Batton & Wright, 2019). Such trends reveal that hiring and retaining females in the profession have met obstacles.
Despite the overall underrepresentation and undervalue of women in police departments in the whole nation, in the rural communities, the situation is worse. Currently, they account for forty-six percent of the whole labor force, which is only thirteen percent of the law enforcement staff (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). Even though the total is thirteen percent, the majority of those employed work for large urban departments (Batton & Wright, 2019). There are various small and rural departments that have zero or a small portion of females in their law enforcement department. Beginning in the middle of the 90s, institutions such as the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have worked on researching women in policing (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). The former has invested resources in mentoring females in top positions, leading them into additional roles.
The two institutions have discovered females can be as effective and even more than the male officers, whereby community policing as well as communication is involved. Studies have revealed that women are more competent both intellectually and strategically in contrast to men (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). In spite of this, they still encounter sexual harassment, discrimination as well as peer intimidation in their jobs (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). Mentors are utilized at higher levels of the police profession as the number of females with interest in promotion rises (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). The media is changing the narrative by portraying women in law enforcement as effective and capable (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). Almost three-quarters of participants in the research supported the increase of female officers (Cambareri & Kuhns, 2018). Women have a peculiar skillset for effectively conducting the novel community strategy in policing in a more proactive manner.
Feminist Theory in a Gendered Society
The feminist standpoint was the basis of the work of Canadian sociologist Dorothy Smith. She has claimed before that the field of sociology has diminished and neglected women by referring to them as other (Violanti et al., 2019). She argues that females’ experiences are important when defining their rights (Violanti et al., 2019). For instance, she is suggesting that due to women being caregivers historically, men found a chance to thrive in different aspects of life (Violanti et al., 2019). For a long time, this has led to men being seen as more essential and valuable in various sectors of life, including law enforcement.
In acknowledgement of her perspective as a working woman and mother, she highlights that the field of sociology failed to recognize this viewpoint. She determined that for minority groups, the persistent separation between how females experience the world and the reality of their social experiences creates oppression. Thus, their daily lives appear invisible instead of as part of human history and culture (Violanti et al., 2019). So that the female officers become valued, what they experience needs to be told. They must be included in the sociological study and their opinions heard from their standpoints. Smith defined the standpoint concept as a means for women to ask for rights over their lived encounters and the insight gained from being of that gender.
Smith stressed that the information females possess has its foundation in the position they fill by subscribing to minority group membership. The realization of the place a minority stands in the community can result in acknowledgement of privileges accorded to one group and not the other. When females understand to internalize society’s perspective, it is a male-oriented view to which they ought to relate. They cultivate a consciousness whereby they have to live with expectations from the social standpoint as they deal with reality of life. Females in law enforcement find it difficult to maintain femininity while not seeming masculine so that they fit into the hyper-masculine surroundings of many departments of police. The social approval for going against the norms with regards to sex performance range from funny looks to violence. Women can appear rude in policing if they portray some masculine characteristics, whereas, for the males, they will be seen as being professional.
There are various complexities that result from women’s integration into male-dominated surroundings. Rosabeth Kanter claimed that females are required to be in more significant numbers in the labor force so that equality exists. She thought that this would immediately equalize men and women in quantity and cultural standards. She defined the effect as the social association of a small number of people in a bigger differing grouping. A survey was conducted and discovered that as the females’ number in a company rose, the effectiveness and cohesion among males decreased (Violanti et al., 2019). Additionally, the effect was not the same for female employees in the organization regarding performance in addition to the two aspects tested above. The researchers’ hypothesis defines how the minority’s size impacts the competitiveness within the whole group. More discrimination is witnessed among the members if the magnitude is greater. This is due to appear as a danger to the majority.
The hypothesis is relevant while assessing the impact that is a likely explanation for the insufficiency of women officers in the police department today. After years of struggling for gender equality as well as equal chances, females in law enforcement describe utilizing a deviating collection of police behaviors in their encounters with the public, that is, empathy and communication. In such a feminized way of policing, females detached from the men and had to find means to deliver at work and home at the same time. They find themselves trying to maintain their steadiness on sex lines. They continuously negotiate roles while accomplishing their tasks in a male-dominated field.
Ways to Better Gender Equality in Law Enforcement
One of the first steps that the police department can take is making a longer shortlist during recruitment. Gender inequality can be characteristic of informal recruiting practices, especially in fields dominated by men. To challenge this, a recruiter needs to make a longer list, as suggested by (Violanti et al., 2019). Having extra three or more candidates on an original shortlist improves the ratio of females against males when hiring.
The other step is removing the pay gap that exists between male and female professionals. This measures the difference in earnings between men and women. In 2020, those represented or belonging to the female gender group earned eighty-one cents for each dollar earned by male counterparts throughout the world (Jancsics, 2021). Whereas the situation is better now, more work needs to be done, especially for those who lack the ability to discuss their wages. An employer can promote equality in the work environment by being open concerning salaries. This is to guarantee that females are not getting less than others while performing similar roles.
The other step is using skillset-based assessments on candidates trying to be recruited into the various police departments. When basing the evaluation on skills an individual possesses, eliminates the risk of unfair bias in the process (Violanti et al., 2019). For instance, in other fields, employers have asked applicants to perform activities that they are anticipated to do in roles advertised. This has allowed many organizations to test suitability according to performance when tasks are standardized for everyone applying.
The other step is ensuring that there are women who are mentors in the police departments. This can prove invaluable in aiding a female in law enforcement progress in their job. Due to the situation that has existed for a long time, there are women who fear getting into the field or those that are already in and cannot advance. Success stories can help to boost their motivation and thus, encourage others to join the police.
It is important that gender equality become a priority in the field of criminal justice. The paper has revealed that women are greatly underrepresented in various parts of life including career-wise. For a long time, regardless of sector, men have prospered at a higher rate than the females. This can be seen by assessing the number of top leaders in most organizations. It has reached a point that they are not thought of as leaders but followers only. The same bias has infiltrated into the field of criminal justice whereby the number of female police officers is considerably lower than that of male counterparts.
In spite of the situation showing an improvement now when compared to a decade ago, the police department and law enforcement institution has a long way to go. Due to their ability to communicate and empathize, women have been discovered to be more effective at policing. This should offer the field a challenge since the rate of crime has risen in the past few years without finding a solution to reduce the cases. Recruiting more women gives any police department a boost and promises better work.
Batton, C., & Wright, E. M. (2019). Patriarchy and the structure of employment in criminal justice: Differences in the experiences of men and women working in the legal profession, corrections, and law enforcement. Feminist Criminology, 14(3), 287-306.
Cambareri, J. F., & Kuhns, J. B. (2018). Perceptions and perceived challenges associated with a hypothetical career in law enforcement: Differences among male and female college students. Police Quarterly, 21(3), 335-357.
Jancsics, D. (2021). Law enforcement corruption along the US borders. Security Journal, 34(1), 26-46.
Violanti, J. M., Owens, S. L., McCanlies, E., Fekedulegn, D., & Andrew, M. E. (2019). Law enforcement suicide: A review. Policing: An International Journal.