Leadership Material: Correcting Gender Imbalance in UK Policing

Wed 22 Apr 2020

Leadership Material: Correcting Gender Imbalance in UK Policing

Diversity programmes in policing are sometimes met with the criticism that the police ‘should focus on policing and not political correctness’. However, in its 2019 ‘Gender Equality in UK Policing’ report, Sussex Police counters such claims by challenging readers with the following questions:  

“Why are the vast majority of those involved in county line drug dealing or gang violence male?  

What are the stereotypes that boys feel the need to adhere to which influence their behaviour and does this make them more susceptible to becoming involved in (and become victims of) street violence?  

What role does gender inequality play within gangs and their culture and how does this affect the way we police them?  

Why are girls used by young men to carry drugs and weapons to evade police attention and why is sexual violence used as a means of gang-initiation?” 

Questions of Consequence

Policing is a male-dominated sector – a statement which is unlikely to surprise many people. It is also unlikely to surprise many that leadership in policing is yet more male-dominated – a trend that is replicated across most sectors. However, by opening its first annual ‘Gender Equality in UK Policing’ report in 2019 with the above questions, Sussex Police set out the impact of a police service and leadership which does not represent gender equality in stark terms. Not only is gender inequality in policing unjust -- it is also dangerous, reinforcing a link between gender stereotypes and violence against women and girls. 

Questions such as these draw attention to the fact that gender equality and equal representation in policing are high-stakes issues. Currently, gender representation in the police service varies significantly according to role; as of 31 March 2019, 62% of police staff were women, compared with 46% of PCSOs, 50% of police support volunteers, 49% of designated officers and just 30% of police constables. Sussex Police also notes that although women are over-represented within their police staff, the highest number of women are still in the lowest paid roles -- a trend which they suggest is likely to be replicated across most UK police services.  

The 'Gender Equality in UK Policing' report track the gap amongst frontline staff between overall female representation and the representation of women at senior levels. Whilst 30% of frontline officers are women, the report finds that senior leadership is yet more male-dominated in the vast majority of police forces in England and Wales, with a disproportionately higher number of men in senior positions than women.  

Taking Action

The report examines the representation gap in each of UK’s police forces, and the action being taken by each to foster greater gender equality amongst their demographics. A number of important measures to increase female representation are highlighted in Sussex Police’s report, including menopause awareness, facilitating the return to work after a career break, domestic abuse training and confidence development coaching. Such variety demonstrates that both cultural and structural barriers hinder greater inclusion of women in police forces. BAWP’s 2014 Gender Agenda outlines certain structural barriers for women which are more particular to policing, including changes to the job-related fitness assessment (JRFA) and how ‘direct entry’ schemes are structured. The availability of flexible working and support for staff with caring responsibilities were also identified as key areas in need of improvement.  

These measures alone are not enough to ensure that women reach the seniority that they aspire to, however. Cultural barriers that reinforce gender stereotypes hinder women in policing in similar ways to other sectors. As Chief Constable Dee Collins has outlined, similar to other sectors, unconscious bias plays a role in how women and men negotiate recruitment and promotion, whilst “the way men and women balance their careers with having children, including the influence of their employer as they make those decisions” also has significant impact.  

Charting Progress and Changing Culture

Sussex Police's first annual ‘Gender Equality in UK Policing’ report in 2019 is a hugely positive step towards correcting such imbalances and addressing barriers. By encouraging each of the UK’s forces to contribute a ‘best practice example’ and a list of ‘actions to date’ to the report, police forces are called upon to reflect on how their operations and structures might impact gender equality and what they might do differently. The report also creates an accessible forum for exchanging knowledge and best practice, whilst building accountability. Furthermore, the HeForShe commitment ensures that men as well as women are at the heart of this conversation – which is essential to securing a change in culture, especially in such a male-dominated sector.  

The HeForShe movement within UK policing has begun with its best foot forwards, addressing an issue which has been inherent since the initial inclusion of women the police force at the beginning of the twentieth century. Chief Constable Dee Collins has remarked that, over the course of her career, she has seen, “a huge cultural shift in attitudes towards women in policing, from a culture where women were a tiny minority and were issued with a force handbag on joining, […] to one where women make up an integral and ever growing part of the service.”  There is evidently still a way to go, however, as the statistics reveal. However, recent action to secure culture change across UK policing, as captured by the 2019 ‘Gender Equality in UK Policing’ report, suggests that sustained efforts and continued conversations will spell a bright future for UK policing.  


Women in Policing will take place on Thursday 10th December 2020 in Central London.  

This conference will provide attendees with practical advice and coaching on how to develop their careers, from perspectives such as building resilience and developing empowerment; developing and retaining a growth mindset in the face of adversity; dealing with sexism in the workplace and beyond; and leading a change in culture.  



Sussex Police, (2019). Gender Equality in UK Policing First Annual Report, https://www.sussex.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/sussex/about-us/governance-and-processes/equality-and-diversity/heforshe-annual-report-2019.pdf


British Association for Women in Policing, (2014). Gender Agenda 3,



Chief Constable Dee Collins, National Police Chiefs' Council, The Police Chief's Blog, 


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