After the Webinar: Women in Law Enforcement-Promotion & Assignment. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Rachel Tolber and Dr. Natalie Todak answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Women in Law Enforcement: Promotion & Assignment.  Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: Natalie, in order to become Chief, you have to have been in some kind of leadership role, and in order to get into leadership management, you have to have entry-level people. Where is the disconnect actually happening? Is it that women aren’t getting through the recruitment process or is it that they are not getting through those first couples of years and then up into leadership? Or is it both? 

Dr. Natalie Todak: I’ll start by saying that our research is not current so what I’m talking about is probably from the late 90s or late 2000s but the answer is – across all phases. So as we learned in the last webinar in this series, there is a big problem with women not making it through the academy and the research out there shows that minority women have the hardest time making it through the academy – but across all groups of women, they tend to drop out during the physical fitness test during the academy and during field training. There is a paper out there by Robin Haarr talking about factors that lead to the decision of police recruits to drop out and a lot of it has to do with the feeling that this wasn’t what I thought police work was going to be like. The Todak 2017 paper that is attached to this webinar was aimed at trying to understand what women think policing is going to be like and how that matches up with what the reality is. So I think there is a lot of great research out there on recruitment and Captain Ivonne Roman from Newark PD is doing some great work on training women so that when they do enter policing, we have this pool of women that are qualified, that know what they were getting into, and they’ve been training for this exact role. Like I argued earlier, then it’s up to the organization to have the culture and the policies in place that supports women so that they want to stay and they want to continue to progress.



Audience Question: What does the research say about women’s leadership and management styles, their skills and their successes in law enforcement? Are women law enforcement managers and leaderships more successful? What does that mean? 

Dr. Natalie Todak: That is something that hasn’t really been studied but I’m wondering if Karen Montejo’s dissertation got at that question. Rachel, do you have information on that?

Rachel Tolber: I don’t recall Karin’s research talking about the styles of the leadership. But yes, that is a very interesting question and we definitely need to think about in terms of follow-up research.

Dr. Natalie Todak: I would definitely argue that the outcomes that we should be looking at are what types of impact women have in terms of their patrol unit and then obviously for crime and for community relations as well. Those are all questions that we’re looking to answer but we don’t have research on that yet.



Audience Question: That’s a common challenge that we have with all of the research. There is research out there it’s just it’s so incredibly dated. It’s time to refresh a lot of these studies is what sounds like you were saying.

Dr. Natalie Todak: That was the purpose of NIJ’s recent Summit on Women in Policing. It was a big think tank of women police officers and researchers studying the major issues regarding women in policing, and setting a research agenda that we need to move forward.



Audience Question: What came out of that research summit in terms of determining research line of thought? Are you hearing from doctoral candidates? Are you hearing from research schools saying, “we’re going to take on this challenge.” Are you hearing that level of organization or is that the next phase of that summit? 

Rachel Tolber: One of the biggest things was some of these connections that have been made in terms of moving the research forward, I do think that kind of that next phase of how do we coordinate and organize that so that we not only are updating the information but then also having it in a digestible manner where people can take that information and actually implement it and have access to it.

Dr. Natalie Todak:  I just don’t think that politically there has been a priority for funding this type of research in recent decades. NIJ Director David Muhlhausen said this was the first time NIJ had ever done anything like this on the topic. So, one of the things that we’re hoping will come out of these recent efforts is that funding opportunities will be made available so that research can be done, and done at a scale where it’s generalizable to more police agencies that are looking for information on how to do this.



Audience Question: Rachel, you mentioned that the stress officers often feel especially as a sandwich generation, the need to take care of their older parents as well as children oftentimes this work falls to women. What can agencies really do more to support their officers who are struggling if they intend on growing those people into leaders? 

Rachel Tolber: I think there’s a lot of different things and one of them is just knowing your people. As I’m sure most of you listening know, and knowing what people are going through and I think frequently we’re dealing with these issues. Because the way I see it is this is not just woman’s issue because I know men in similar situations as well but being able to think out of the box, there was actually a period of time where we had the ability to work part-time and that was for men or women. For whatever reason, we’re dealing with a sick spouse, the birth of a new child, but being able to work that out and when that initially came into play, folks were saying that may not be possible, maintaining your post and all these other things and it was really possible and we were able to implement that for a period of time. The other thing we talked about is and I think the military does it well much better than we do is the issue of child-care. We’ve worked 24/7. We go holidays on rotation shifts and working night-shifts having child-care available is really important. Being able to either provide that through the agency or developing that resource within your community and be mindful of that I think is important in law enforcement.



Audience Question:  The next question is from Toya; I’m writing up my findings for a doctoral study on gender-based microaggressions experienced by women in law enforcement. Do you have any recommendations for publications consideration for the future?

Dr. Natalie Todak: I’m wondering if Toya means how to structure the articles or where to send them. If you are looking for specific advice on how to get your dissertation published, I’m happy to respond in more detail in an e-mail. However, I will say there are journals out there that are centered on topics involving women and criminal justice. Women and Criminal Justice or Feminist Criminology, or more general policing journals may be good outlets for her. As a piece of general advice, I would say – be patient. The Todak (2017) article that I attached to this webinar was a project I began in 2011! So be patient and trust that the writing and peer review process takes a long time.



Audience Question: What are your thoughts on the testing process when you have outside entities that create these elaborate tests and some qualified potential women-leaders are simply not the test-takers? And it kind of goes back to an age-old question of these people who are very skilled at taking the ACT or the SAT but that doesn’t mean that they are not incredibly qualified and incredibly intelligent and incredibly valuable human beings. What are your thoughts on those testing processes?

Rachel Tolber: Every agency has a different process and different components to it. I just recently talked with some of my other peers locally about the idea of 360 degree evaluation components. We have this conversation every time we test which is like what is the best test and how do you make sure it’s balanced and how do you make sure you have the right people working in the right spots? I would like to somehow incorporate an overall review process that looks at feedback from peers, an overall review of what that candidate has done and accomplished in their career, as opposed to just what happened on that day and if they’re just having a bad day or a poor test taker. Let’s just be more holistic with the promotion process.



Audience Question: Has the number of women coming out of the military had an impact on the numbers of women in policing and subsequently in leadership? What have you guys found in terms of the military role or military component? 

Dr. Natalie Todak: I don’t know of any research looking at that specifically, but it would make sense to me because the military points that are assigned to applicants tend to disadvantage women because women are less likely to have military experience. But that’s definitely a good question. Rachel do you know anecdotally from your experience?

Rachel Tolber: I really don’t. I can’t say I know a handful of women currently serving in law enforcement roles that have served in the armed forces but I personally don’t have any information on that question.



Audience Question: There’s some data that says that men lean in towards new opportunities. They are more likely to jump towards an opportunity even if they don’t have quite all the requirements whereas women hold back typically seeking to be more prepared and to make sure every single box is checked before they go up for a new role. Have you found this to be the case? Is that still as prevalent in the justice profession and law enforcement in general? 

Rachel Tolber: I can tell you anecdotally – absolutely, I definitely see that that is the case in my experience.

Dr. Natalie Todak: Policing has a male-dominated culture. Rachel uses the analogy of dog years. Women feel that they have to have seven years of experience to a man’s one to earn the same amount of credibility and a lot of women fear promoting and having everyone say, “She took my spot, she didn’t earn that position. She was given it because she was a female.” So I would say that the problem is particularly entrenched in policing because of the culture.



Audience Question: Rachel, what were Karen’s findings again in terms of the things that were more important in the promotion process? 

Rachel Tolber:  One of the most interesting things was that mentorship and taking maternity leave were not significantly related to promoting for women. The elements that did prove to be positive in correlation were holding a variety of different positions within the organization, time on as an officer, and then attendance of leadership training. I was kind of surprised about the non-significant relationship between mentorship and promotion, but Karin pointed out there is a difference between formal mentorship versus informal mentorship and the majority of women had informal mentorship because there was no formal mentorship program. If you don’t have a formal program in terms of evaluation, it’s hard to measure mentorship. But across the board, the majority of the women did have informal mentorship relationships. I was also really surprised with the maternity leave findings. I thought that that would be an issue that hindered women’s likelihood of promoting. Well, taking maternity leave didn’t ultimately hurt my chances of promotion, so I guess we really need to look further into these questions.



Audience Question: What is your experience in terms of duty assignments do you think women especially need to think about fulfilling before they seek promotion or did her research speak to this? 

Rachel Tolber: You know, it did and I don’t have the exact findings right in front of me but I know that she did talk about the difference in traditional roles that women find themselves in within the organization, crimes against children types of things. I think for me, in terms of–and this is also one of the interest that we had looking at some of the more traditionally male roles, the uniform projects and maybe not only can also talk a little bit about that. What positions give you better access to either the relationship or the pathway to promotion and I think that having a variety of different experience really is key whether it’s investigation, administration, and what kind of networks are developed out of that as well. I don’t know the answered it but just some of my thoughts on it. I wish Karen were on the line too so she could speak.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Women in Law Enforcement: Promotion & Assignment.



Additional Resources
2 years ago
After the Webinar: Physical Fitness Standards and Testing. Q&A with Ivonne Roman
Webinar presenter Ivonne Roman answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Women in […]
2 years ago
Thoughts on Maximizing Human Resources from Gary Cordner
Love Gary Cordner's reminder about the importance of leveraging every employee to their fullest pote […]
3 years ago
Career Planning: From Academy to Retirement
For some, being a part of the law enforcement field starts as a childhood dream. Once you graduate f […]
3 years ago
Bringing Your Best to the Promotional Process: An Interview with Dr. Kimberly Miller
Career management can mean a lot of things to different people. For some, it might be just simply be […]