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Recruiting Female Candidates
Law enforcement has always been a male-dominated profession. As a result, leaders have essentially ignored a virtually untapped source of talent: female candidates. Today, women continue to be the most under-represented category of employees in law enforcement, even though they provide the most plentiful source of potential candidates. The competition for quality employees in today’s labor market does not provide leaders the luxury of continuing to maintain this myopic view of talent management.
Before dismissing this perspective, I encourage readers with a more “traditional” view of law enforcement to pause for a moment and recognize that the demands required to succeed as a law enforcement officer are constantly evolving. Thirty years ago, organizations held arbitrary and unreasonable perspectives regarding minorities or persons who failed to meet height and weight standards. Today, however, persons from these groups occupy and serve with distinction in police agencies across the nation.
The concerns that some may hold about female officers’ ability to handle themselves have been repeatedly proven to be without merit by the successful performance of incumbents. The introduction of various less-lethal devices, such as batons, pepper spray and TASERs, has served to neutralize the physical strength imbalance between some candidates and offenders.
In addition, research has proven that female officers are less likely to use force to make an arrest, are less likely to use excessive force, receive fewer complaints, are more empathetic with citizens, have better communication skills and possess better conflict resolutions skills than male officers.
This is not to imply that every woman can be a police officer, just as it would be unreasonable to suggest the same for men. But as gender roles continue to evolve, there will be less hesitancy from women about assuming law enforcement positions, and agencies should be ready to take advantage of these changes.
Check the Trends
A number of trends exist that would lead progressive leaders to believe greater numbers of women are considering law enforcement as a viable career. Staffing patterns in correctional facilities, for example, often serve as a precursor of events in sworn positions.
According to the Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, the number of female employees increased by 41% between 1995 and 2000, while the number of male employees increased by 17%. Women made up 33% of all staff in 2005, up from 29% in 1995. In private correctional facilities, women occupy 48% of the positions. In some state correctional agencies, women occupy as much as 50% of correctional officer positions.
The Uniform Crime Report showed that in 2007, women occupied about 11.8% of all sworn positions and 18.3% of the positions in our nation’s largest cities. In addition, women are assuming greater numbers of supervisory and specialty positions. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2007 women held 13.7% of first-line police supervisory positions and 23.2% of the criminal investigative positions.
While women only hold about 5% of the chief executive positions, leaders should also expect this number to increase in the future. As these barriers continue to be broken, increasing numbers of women will realize that they can experience rewarding, successful careers as police officers. It is not unreasonable to anticipate that female candidates will hold at least 40% of the sworn positions in many departments within 20 years.
Address Issues of Concern
To recruit and retain female candidates, leaders must demonstrate a willingness to address issues of concern to female candidates, such as sexual harassment and maternity leave. Women do not want special preferences or privileges, but they should experience a work environment of equality and respect. Addressing these issues before initiating recruiting efforts shows that departments are concerned about meeting the employees’ needs.
To accomplish this, agencies must establish a policy of zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment. Implementation of the policy should include training which incorporates open discussions, policy review, and scenarios of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Any complaints should be thoroughly investigated and corrective action of violations should be swiftly administered.
Sources for Candidates
Recruiting highly talented individuals who fit with the agency will always be challenging. To find greater numbers of female candidates, departments must focus on areas where they are likely to find women who are interested in non- traditional careers. Incumbent officers can often provide great insight to sources for these candidates.
In addition, departments can often grab the attention of potential candidates by distributing literature and sponsoring activities at gyms and women’s sporting events, such as softball, lacrosse and soccer games. Other more general locations include female health clinics and grocery stores.
Women from “police families” are often drawn to careers in law enforcement. Because of this, recruiters may look for relatives of current and retired officers as potential candidates. Similarly, female military personnel who are completing their tour of duty are often comfortable with the structured work environment most criminal justice agencies provide. The military offers a number of ways for agencies to reach out to veterans, including job fairs and Internet job search sites.
Recently, graduating seniors have found that there are fewer job opportunities available than in previous years. Recruiters participating in college job fairs should not limit their pitch to criminal justice graduates. Graduates with other degrees, such as physical education, journalism and sociology, may find a career in law enforcement very appealing. Agencies may also sponsor internships as a way of anchoring students in the agency before graduating.
Organizations taking a long-term approach to recruiting have initiated Explorer programs, orienting teenagers to law enforcement career opportunities at an early age.
Focused Recruiting Techniques
Once the areas to find potential candidates are identified, the techniques to attract individuals should be reviewed. Even though the number of women in most agencies is not representative of the labor pool, departments can do a number of things to ensure that women know they are welcome in the organization. Agencies with female officers in supervisory and specialty positions demonstrate that women have an equal opportunity to advance within the department. Due to this, female officers should be prominently included in all department recruitment literature and Web sites.
Departments should also be aware that a 6-foot, 4-inch high-ranking male officer will not likely recruit a great number of female applicants. This is not to say that men cannot successfully recruit female candidates, but candidates are more likely to be recruited by persons who they perceive as similar to themselves. Thus, departments should encourage female incumbents to participate as recruiters.
When talking with potential applicants, recruiters should not assume that everyone is interested in the same aspects of the job. Careers in law enforcement offer a variety of opportunities for individuals to make it what they want. In fact, women place different priorities of importance on each area of the job, with greater emphasis being on a supportive work environment, a balanced life style and career development opportunities.
Recruiters must use active listening skills to identify which key aspects of the job to highlight. For example, a candidate may indicate that she is looking for a job that offers career development and growth. The recruiter can use this as an opportunity to emphasize the need for continuous training and opportunities that the department offers for training, as well as career advancement and mobility.
In other instances, staff should be prepared to describe how employees enjoy a supportive work environment. While this may seem a bit “touchy-feely” at first, think of how often officers rush to assist each other everyday. If an officer is facing a personal hardship because of an injury or sickness, fellow officers take up a collection or donate sick leave to help him cover his living expenses. These types of behaviors occur in police organizations so often that we take them for granted. In reality, this type of camaraderie seldom occurs in other professions.
While law enforcement is a sacrificial career, it is important for recruiters to be able to describe how officers are able to maintain a balance between their personal lives and work lives if they take the time to schedule activities.
It is also important to note that many applicants are attracted to police work because of the opportunity to provide service for the community. This resonates with many candidates who want to make a difference in the lives of others. To capture the interest of candidates such as these, recruiters should collect stories to share of how officers have been able to improve their communities and the lives of others through their service.
At the same time, it is not uncommon for female candidates to voice concerns about their personal safety. Much of this concern is caused by the media’s portrayal of law enforcement. To counter these concerns, recruiters should acknowledge that some aspects of the job are potentially dangerous, but that the agency places the utmost importance on officers’ safety. New recruits are not released from training until they can protect themselves, fellow officers and the public.
In addition, the introduction of less-lethal weapons, such as pepper spray, batons and TASERs, ensures that officers can counter an attack from the strongest opponent on equal ground. Operational procedures ensure that backup officers are available on high-risk calls or within a few minutes of a call for assistance.
Finally, many persons from Generation Y have been raised in a nurturing, supportive family environment. Unlike previous generations, parents today are actively involved in their children’s lives and young persons are likely to seek their parents’ opinion, support and approval about various career opportunities.
A recent survey by the Association of Colleges and Employers revealed that 72% of female graduates talk with their parents about their first job offer. Because of this, recruiters must be prepared to recruit the entire family. This will require that recruiters be prepared and comfortable speaking with a candidate’s parents regarding opportunities within the department.
Top Quality Candidates
Females are the most under-represented group in law enforcement agencies today. By making recruitment a strategic goal, agencies can likely find a great number of high quality officers. To be successful, agencies must focus their efforts on locations where quality candidates are likely to be found and must focus their message on aspects of the job those candidates find important. When done correctly, the departments will become more diverse, stronger and better equipped to meet the challenges of modern policing.
Much of the problem associated with selecting and retaining employees is linked to the continued use of legacy-based procedures. As a result of this, departments continue to attract the same types of employees, even though the job requirements have changed significantly. To successfully identify candidates, both male and female, who fit with the agency, leaders must reassess their selection processes to identify the critical skills and abilities required to succeed in today’s policing.
As agencies struggle to find quality candidates who possess the skills necessary to fill voids in organizational performance, they must expand the scope of their search for potential candidates. Increasing the numbers of female officers within departments promotes diversity and strengthens our organizations beyond the recognition of previous generations.
Dwayne Orrick is the Chief of the Cordele, GA Police. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a past-presenter at the IACP convention. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Dec 2009
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