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Smith, Jay, Spottswood, Phillip
The statistics on female police officers employed in police organizations paint an unflattering picture of recruiting and retaining efforts in the field of law enforcement and tarnish the prestige and honor of police work as a career path for women. Less than 15 percent of police officers in today’s local public safety organizations are female with many facing job promotion and inclusion barriers as a result of gender stereotyping and gender discrimination behaviors.
The negative legal and financial consequences of gender stereotyping and gender discrimination have caused local governing boards and councils to closely examine how their police administrators assimilate and retain female police officers.
Mentoring, as a management and leadership resource, can assist newly hired female police officers in assimilating and integrating into police organizations sans gender bias and discrimination. Effective mentoring programs ease the anxiety caused by overwhelming feelings of doubt many newly hired female police officers have about their ability to “make it” in the field of law enforcement. Furthermore, effective mentoring programs enhance the police administrator’s efforts in strengthening their organizations and keeping female police officer retention rates high.
The research on mentoring is robust with numerous definitions found within the literature. In sum, mentoring is a formal or informal work-related relationship where two individuals, the “mentor” and the “mentoree,” establish a formal or informal pact whereby the mentor, who is a more seasoned and longer tenured employee of the organization, voluntarily gives of their time to teach, guide, support, and encourage a newly hired and less seasoned employee, the mentoree, within the organization and in navigating a career path for the mentoree.
Types of Mentoring Programs
Mentoring programs are typically one of two types, formal and informal. Formal mentoring programs are designed and incorporated by leadership and management into the organization’s daily operations through formal administrative actions. As a formally written policy, the mentoring program exists to facilitate in the accomplishment of the organization’s goals.
Under formal mentoring programs, the mentoring cycle typically runs approximately 9–12 months per mentor/mentoree pairing. The formal mentoring program serves as a conduit for achieving organizational goals with a clear understanding of the role the mentoring program plays in achieving organizational goals. Prospective mentors receive mentor training and are educated on the role mentoring will serve within the organization and how to serve as an effective mentor.
After receiving professional training and education on mentoring, mentors are placed into a mentor pool within the organization and selected for pairing with a mentoree based on a variety of factors including capability, the goals of the organization, and the role of the mentoring program.
Unlike formal mentoring programs, informal mentoring programs are not officially established within the organization through policy directives. Instead, mentoring occurs by happenstance and through the development of informal friendships within the workplace. The mentor and mentoree typically start as acquaintances with the mentor usually void of any formal mentoring education or training. The mentor is simply a friend providing guidance and wisdom. Pairing of the mentor and mentoree is done informally and with no objectives established.
Mentoring programs present moral, ethical, and legal questions in terms of the types of ‘friendships’ established between the mentor and the mentoree and how those friendships carry into both work and non-work environments. The role of the mentor is counselor, advisor, advocate, and champion for the mentoree.
Given the sensitive and emotional nature of mentoring, especially with regard to informal mentoring, the police administrator must carefully draw the line between mentor and mentoree relations and establish clear criteria for appropriate behavior and sanctions for inappropriate behaviors. The legal and financial consequences from failing to establish and enforce appropriate mentoring behaviors are far too great to ignore.
Before establishing a mentoring program, the police administrator should consider a number of topics. How will the mentoring program be structured? Will the mentoring program be formal or informal? Formal mentoring programs are more structured than informal mentoring programs and require additional funding in order to professionally educate and train individuals serving as mentors.
Mentoring costs must be calculated and measured against desired productivity and organizational outcomes as a form of cost/benefit analysis with benefits exceeding costs. Formal mentoring is sometimes seen, however, as cost prohibitive for local governments and as a result, informal mentoring becomes a more attractive option.
However, the unstructured nature of informal mentoring and lack of pre-established goals or measures of outcome success find police administrators faced with the unique challenge of managing a mentor and mentoree relationship that is more emotionally bonded and of longer duration than the typical 9- to 12-month mentoring relationship found under a formal mentoring program.
While less cost prohibitive, informal mentoring is difficult to manage due to the personal nature of mentoring relationships and if safeguards are not established in governing informal mentoring relationships, the cost of formal mentoring may actually pale in comparison to potential negative legal consequences such as sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuits. Professionally educated and trained mentors reduce the risks of costly lawsuits.
Who will serve as a mentor? Mentors should be confident, secure, sensitive to diversity, and good communicators. Furthermore, they must be unafraid to discuss failures and successes when sharing real-life stories with the mentoree to make the mentor more personable and sincere without creating feelings of alienation in the mentoree.
By showing honesty and openness, the mentor creates a relationship of trust. A mentor must, however, be cognizant of the moral and ethical boundaries of the mentoring relationship. Using the mentoring position as a weapon to the disadvantage of the mentoree can create costly legal issues and poor publicity for the public safety department.
How will the mentoring relationship be structured? Will the mentoring relationship be a male mentor for the newly hired female police officer? A female mentor for a newly hired female police officer or both a male and female mentor for a newly hired female police officer?
The organization’s culture will set the tone for how women’s roles in the workplace are perceived by their male counterparts and how senior female police officers interact within the organization’s culture. When the overtones of a predominantly male police organization lean toward women as subservient to their male colleagues, newly hired female police officers may feel threatened by their male mentors and become distracted in their efforts to earnestly enhance job skills and ensure the safety of the communities they serve.
Job stress caused by stereotypes toward women in the workplace can further negate mentoring efforts by creating health issues for newly hired female police officers resulting in decreased productivity and increased insurance costs. Female mentors who subscribe to a “go along, get along” management style to placate male co-workers may find themselves facing the same legal and managerial issues as their male counterparts and thus diminishing the intent and effectiveness of the mentoring program.
For example, a male and female working together as mentors with a newly hired female police officer finds the male mentor espousing gender stereotypes with the female mentor assuming a “go along, get along” attitude inhibits the newly hired female police officer in her efforts to build important job skills and instead creates a hostile work environment for the newly hired female police officer. The disposition and intention of both male and female mentors must be determined and assessed for preventative management and legal purposes. Consulting with General Counsel and Human Resources can provide valuable insights for police administrators in addressing these issues.
While the role of the mentor is important to a successful mentoring program, the mentoree must also share responsibilities in the mentoring relationship. Police administrators must determine whether their newly hired female police officers are prepared to participate in the mentoring program and be an equal partner in creating a positive experience. To accomplish this, police administrators must address a number of factors.
Expectations. Determine if the mentoree has a career goal and a clear idea of what is expected from the organization and the mentoree’s role as a team member. Unrealistic expectations about what the mentoring program can do guarantee a path to program failure with feelings of dissatisfaction from mentoring outcomes and the mentoring program overall.
Open communication. Open communication during the mentoring relationship must be established to effectively guide the newly hired female police officer toward her career goals and in becoming an effective team member of the law enforcement organization. The mentoree must build a relationship of trust with the mentor about career and job related concerns and seeking career and job insights. The mentoree should be encouraged to solicit feedback from the mentor in an open communication forum without the mentor struggling to understand what exactly the mentoree feels or needs with regard to job and career advice and guidance.
Priorities. Establish the mentoree’s job and career priorities in advance before creating courses of action. Discussions with the mentoree prior to establishing courses of action will eliminate any misunderstandings about the best plan of action in establishing and pursuing job and career priorities. A newly hired female police officer may change her career focus within the field of law enforcement as she ‘learns the ropes,’ creating a more rounded thinking about the best path for a successful law enforcement career.
Taking an active role. Mentorees must be willing to actively engage in the mentoring relationship and be prepared to work with their mentor as a team member in building a professional career path. However, the mentor must create an atmosphere of trust and openness for this to occur.
When implemented void of dysfunctional management behaviors, the benefits of mentoring programs are exponential for mentors, mentorees, law enforcement organizations, and the communities served. Sincere and professional mentoring creates the opportunity for several positive outcomes.
These include: 1) increased positive attitudes from personal peer assistance; 2) greater understanding of the politics of an organization and ways to navigate successfully; and 3) greater understanding of the organization’s norms, values, ideology, and standards, which facilitate in advancing the mentoree to supervisory and leadership positions, increased safety in building team-focused working relationships among police officers without gender bias.
These also include: 4) positive public perceptions of cooperative work efforts for community safety; 5) higher female retention rates for police organizations; 6) functional, non-distracting, fitted work gear (body armor, duty belts, etc.) for female police officers for enhanced job performance; 7) focused guidance in proper physical tactics; and 8) greater ease in first-year assimilation into the organization’s culture.
While the numbers of females entering and remaining in police careers have historically been low, the future shows signs of great opportunity for recruiting and retaining more women in the field of law enforcement.
Over the past several decades, females entering police work has increased, albeit slowly, with more professional networks and in-house programs surfacing to assist them with regard to job and career related issues including mentoring. Today, newly hired and veteran female police officers have professional organizations including the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) and in-house programs within public safety departments such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Women’s Network Committee offering camaraderie and professional advice on job and career issues including mentoring.
The proliferation of professional networks and in-house programs geared toward newly hired and veteran female police officers highlights two notable points. First, acknowledgment is given to the unique job and career issues female police officers face in a male-dominated field. Second, increases in the number of professional networks and in-house programs for female police officers to address job- and career-related issues including mentoring reinforces the field of law enforcement as a professional, honorable and prestigious career choice when recruiting and retaining female police officers.
Acknowledging the unique job and career issues female police officers face, while at the same time creating professional networks and in-house programs to assist female police officers in addressing those job and career issues, demonstrates that law enforcement recognizes problems within the field and seeks practical solutions for eliminating those problems.
Creating sincere and professional mentoring opportunities in public safety departments is possible despite scarce budget resources. By upholding the moral and ethical leadership expectations of the public when mentoring a newly hired female police officer and by understanding the key role a mentor plays in job and career successes of newly hired female police officers, informal mentoring is a positive and cost-effective management and leadership resource for police administrators.
Effective mentoring offers tremendous benefits by creating a more welcoming environment for newly hired female police officers into law enforcement organizations. While the beliefs, attitudes, and values police administrators hold toward the role of women in the workplace shape the organization’s acceptance of female colleagues, professionally administered mentoring programs can eliminate false stereotypes about female police officer abilities and the contributions they make to the law enforcement organization.
Implementing sincere and professional mentoring programs help cleanse discriminatory beliefs, attitudes, and values from the organizational culture, while at the same time, establishing police work as a prestigious and honorable career path for women. The benefits generated from professionally implemented mentoring, whether formal or informal, are well worth the investment in both human and program capital.
Lisa R. Grace is a Sergeant at Center Line Public Safety. She received her Master of Public Administration from Central Michigan University and has served as a visiting scholar at a community college teaching criminal justice courses. She may be reached at email@example.com. Christopher Petras is a management and public policy consultant. He received his Doctor of Public Administration from Western Michigan University and has served as a visiting scholar teaching in areas including public personnel administration, program implementation and evaluation, constitutional law, political behavior, and public budgeting and finance.
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Petras, Christopher, Lisa Grace
Implementing sincere and professional mentoring programs help cleanse discriminatory beliefs, attitudes, and values from the organizational culture, while at the same time establish police work as a prestigious and honorable career path for women. Read More
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