After the Webinar: Women in LE – Navigating Police Culture. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp and Asst. Chief Sheryl Victorian answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Women in Law Enforcement: Navigating Police Culture.  Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: Chief Victorian, participants in her dissertation study reported more hindrances to career opportunities, responsibilities of leaders because of their extensive skills or strong personalities. Many described situations from male counterparts because they were perceived as a threat. Have you ever had that experience? 

Sheryl Victorian: Boy have I ever? That’s a great question. How much time do we have? In an organization now of 5200 sworn police officers and 44 in captain’s position, 1 of eight assistant chief’s job is very competitive and a lot of people who may have had a lot more experience in certain positions as you as a female are threatened and maybe not initially supportive of you and your promotion. I think that from the idea of being selected it was me and no one else. I’m a religious person so I believe that it was for me and not for anyone else. The first couple of weeks it was very difficult to face people who knew that they thought that deserve the job. Eventually, again we have to prove ourselves and that’s unfortunate but when they see that you have the background and the skills to do the job, then you gain their respect. It’s a difficult position to be in.

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: I think Shery did a great job covering this topic. This is a common experience for women. I know the women I interviewed for the Thriving in al All Boys Club book mentioned having to work twice as hard for the same level of respect. I think the strategy that Chief Sheryl outlined earlier provides a great pathway to overcoming some of those challenges.



Audience Question: What’s the role that men have in helping women progress through the profession as well?

Sheryl Victorian: There are a lot of people in leadership positions or in key positions across the country that still believe that females should not be in leadership or should not be in policing. We have many more male supporters now who understand and respect the value of the female contribution to this field. Those are the one like I’ve said that have to identify and find that support from. We have to have men advocates in order to be successful in this field. If there’s a leader out there on the call or one that you know of who is a male chief or a male assistant chief or in an influential role that is advocating for females, that’s big. That’s really key. We need to make sure that if they are in these roles that need to mentor, they need to advocate, they need to promote, they need to make sure that we are recruiting females in law enforcement.

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: I will add that there is some interesting organizational research on this topic right now. I’m going to echo what Sheryl said that because the police started as an almost exclusively male-dominated occupation that many of the opportunities that women have in policing are because men did open doors for women to walk through. Some of the organizational research actually suggests that men that do speak up and are advocates and are allies for women in organizations also face backlash. One of the challenges is making this a conversation in organizations. Where do we get started? The first step is talking about the issue and also being aware that men who are advocates and allies for women in organizations sometimes also face some backlash for that. Second have a plan. Brainstorm strategies for overcoming backlash within your organization.



Audience Question: Is it easier to get more women to join the civilian staff versus the sworn? Why is that? 

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: We do see an over representation of women in civilian staff and this is not unique to the US either. We’re doing comparative research right now, about women’s experiences across the world. We do see women across the globe overrepresented in civilian ranks rather than sworn ranks. One of the challenges is that we don’t know as much about their experiences but what we do know is that their challenges are similar to women in the sworn roles.

Sheryl Victorian: We do have a civilian staff of just under a thousand. Many of those positions are held by females. There are many reasons why our administrative staff have not joined the ranks of policing. A couple of them are of educational backgrounds. I know for a while that we did require at least 60 hours then we dropped it down to 45 hours of education and now we changed the process and as long as you have 3 years of consistent work experience, you’ll be able to apply as a police in the police department. We’re hoping that some of our administrative staff that have been here in quite some time who has an interest in being out there in the streets or being in an investigation will start to apply for the academy to actually be our probationary police officer in the academy.



Audience Question: We’ve talked a lot about leadership today but what if I don’t want to be a chief, then what? 

Sheryl Victorian: I think I mentioned this a couple of times during the presentation. Just lead where you are. You do not have to have rank to be a leader. Formal or informal leadership is key. I know a lot of us say and we talked about it, Cara talked about the research earlier. A lot of women don’t want to be role models. But essentially we are, because we are so few that when the younger officers come up behind us, they’re looking for somebody to look up to, looking for somebody for guidance. But you do not have to promote in a law enforcement agency if that is not your desire. It’s not everyone’s desire. The only thing that I can suggest is just excel where you are and be that informal leader and always have a voice.

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: I thought Sheryl made a great point about this earlier which is that it’s about visibility so because women are underrepresented in policing and you are so visible, whether you want to or not, you are leading, you are visible. To making the most of that opportunity, I think has been really beneficial for women in those roles.



Audience Question: I find the majority of males in my agency don’t mentor. Could they be apprehensive because it could be taken the wrong way? 

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: It could be true. It could also be linked to the organizational research I was talking about moments ago which is that men, also, take some backlash in organizations when they do mentor women or when they do promote women. In male-dominated occupations, like policing as you an increase in representation of women in leadership, and an attempt for women to provide pathways to leadership that men that help along the way also face some sort of backlash. That could be another reason why we’re seeing that.

Sheryl Victorian: Hey Lory I have a suggestion for you. That’s a great question by the way. As Cara explained earlier about the backlash that males sometimes gets because they are mentoring a female, make someone an indirect mentor. By that I mean if there is somebody that you admire, just ask questions. You ask them, get their feedback, their response if you are facing a situation that you may need. Just start asking questions and that person is likely going to respond. In essence, you are getting information from him, you are drawing the knowledge from him that he may are already or are nearly giving to you in a process that you have a mentorship program. Just take advantage of those opportunities to ask questions. You be proactive and engaging.



Audience Question: Sheryl, do you recommend that female law enforcement officers actually go out and find mentors? Do I need a mentor? How do you choose one? Do you really think that this notion of assigning a mentor in this formalized programs, do they necessarily always work? 

Sheryl Victorian: I don’t have any research on how effective mentorship programs are. Personally, I’m an informal leader. My days from the time I get to work to the time that I leave. However, when someone wants to come to me to ask a question or spend some time with me asking about specific situations, I make the time to do that. I hand my business card with my personal cellphone number to anybody. I always offer the opportunity, hey give me a call if you have any questions or if there is something I can do for you. Sometimes the informal leadership, I can’t say it means more because I’ve never been involved in a formal mentorship program but it means a lot. If you need to find a mentor, if you want somebody just to be an advocate for you, sometimes you have to ask. If you know somebody in the leadership position or in the role that you admire, that you seek, then maybe ask that person, hey could you be my mentor or would you mind if I have questions off? I needed some guidance if I could reach out to you. The title of a mentor is just that. It’s a title. You’re developing relationships where somebody is open to you and they will be able to answer questions when you need questions or guidance.

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: A lot of what we know about mentoring programs from an empirical sampling of case studies of programs that have been sort of tried and featured. Much of that is dated. We know that formal mentoring can work but informal mentoring as Sheryl mentioned is really sort of where the magic happens. Going back to the comment of mentoring versus advocacy, we know that sometimes mentoring isn’t enough. As Sheryl mentioned a moment ago, it is really about advocacy, it is about relationship building, it is building skills. It is about bringing people’s names to the table when there are specific opportunities for them to display some leadership. All of those things have to take place, either formally or informally.



Audience Question: The military is often a source for employees and ideas for law enforcement agencies. What can we learn from the military for finding and keeping more law enforcement officers? 

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: Recruitment and retention I think is a large topic right now related to policing. One of the questions related to the military and policing is what image do American police departments want to provide to recruits about what their work is going to be like and what skills they need to be successful in the organization? Frankly, some organizations are taking a step away from the more militaristic image of policing to more accurately portray or at least that they perceive more accurately portray what it means to do the job day in and day out. We’re seeing to some extent a step away from that militaristic image especially in recruitment materials. In some organizations that may accurately portray much more of how they see the role of policing and so organizations have to think carefully about this when they’re putting together recruitment materials. We do know specifically when we look at women in policing, women are drawn to recruitment materials oftentimes where they are able to display helping and the opportunities to help others but this is by no means unique to women. Men also report that as being important in employment opportunities for recruitment.



Audience Question: Sheryl what are you seeing in terms of innovative activities or innovative programs you’re seeing other agencies do to encourage women to join the force? 

Sheryl Victorian: I am fortunate enough to be a part of a new committee that was formed by the Texas Police Chief Association for women in leadership positions and professional development. As a team, as leaders across the state of Texas, most of us are females but we do have several male advocates on the panel. We have a sub-group that as a matter of fact one of the leaders of one of the organizations that we mentioned earlier who’s creating advocacy and mentorship programs to develop women. As a committee for Texas police chiefs making inclusivity and exception as part of this profession, encouraging it, we can’t make it happen but we are encouraging it. We are developing classes for general sessions for the annual Texas Police Chiefs Association. Making sure that we have breakout sessions regarding the inclusivity and acceptance of women in law enforcement and the benefit and value of having women in law enforcement agencies. I think we are off to a great start there. In our recruiting practices as well, in Houston Police Department we have both men and women assigned to recruiting. They go out to different universities, they go out to different events held by different organizations and we recruit. We do our best to recruit women. We have them in our recruiting posters. We’re out recruiting in the field. We take pictures and put them on Twitter. We make sure that we are targeting all, every population.



Audience Question: Cara from your bird’s eye view and you certainly been aware of a lot of research going on in the fields, what further research do you see being needed in this area? 

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp: What we see in the research related to women in policing is that this is a research area where there is a lot of attention in the 70s and 80s when women first entered police organizations. Since then we’ve seen sporadic research. In the 2000s there’s been sort of renewed interest related to community policing, another directive. They’ve really started looking empirically at the impact of women on police organizations. Late last year, the National Institute of Justice published their first-ever summary report on what we know about from the empirical perspective of women in policing. It is called Women of Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path. I highly recommend it as a great summary of what we know about women in policing and what we still don’t know. That brings me back to my original point which is that much of what we know about women’s experiences in policing is somewhat dated. You do see my plug there that if you are interested in being interviewed, confidentially of course for future research. I am always interested in capturing the experiences of women in police. The challenge for many of us that are scholars in this area is that we want to be able to empirically test the questions that so many of us have, but the resources to do this research are limited. If there are questions that you want the answer to, that you are not sure where that research is, I would suggest start to first that report I talked about by the NIJ. Second, Sheryl and I have worked on together to culminate some research on this particular area related to policing culture and that is on the handout associated with this webinar.



Audience Question: Our agency of 53 sworn has traditionally approximately 4 female officers at any given point in time. We’ve never had a female supervisor. We’re having a difficult time getting our female officers to sit for the Sergeant’s exam. When they do, they do not score high enough to be given serious consideration. For all of you involved here, what are some of your recommendations that I’m sure other agencies are experiencing something similar? What can we do to bridge this divide? 

Sheryl Victorian: The suggestion I have here is perhaps conducting trainings or house studies for promotional exams. I know every experience is different for each agency or maybe if you get to train men and women to show your candidates how to study. Studying for the promotional exam with the Houston Police Department was not like studying for the exam when I was in college. There are differences. Sometimes our female employees will attempt the promotional process one time and it doesn’t work out for them and they don’t want to try again. When they understand the strategies and techniques that are used to take these exams, to do well in those exams then I think they’ll be more encouraged to participate. I don’t know if you guys use an assessment process or if you have to pass the promotional exam to participate in the assessment process, but perhaps you should put on training and offer opportunities for your female officers to attend some of those trainings and assessment centers so that they can have that experience so they’ll know what to expect.

Dr. Cara Rabe-Hemp:  I think that is great advice. I would piggyback in to say that the research with interviews with women police suggest that sometimes there are hidden obstacles such as the fact that a supervisory shift meant a schedule that did not accommodate their family life. In fact, the change in shift was one thing that came up fairly consistently when women were asked why they are not promoting. Another was because they’re intimidated or concerned about the process. This speaks to Sheryl’s issue or question of whether or not they are using the testing center. Finally, there is research that suggests that women are opting not to go through promotion because they feel like they will be promoted specifically because of their status as women. Some of these things may be taking place. I would suggest doing interviews or having conversations, with those who are not promoting who you think would be great supervisors and those conversations might give you some ideas about the presence of those hidden obstacles.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Women in Law Enforcement: Navigating Police Culture.



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