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Debunking Gender Role Myths

  • Written by Petras, Christopher, Lisa Grace

Debunking gender role myths and building effective law enforcement organizations free of workplace inclusion and promotion barriers increases public trust, enhances work productivity, and reduces financial liabilities. Through collaborative leadership, law enforcement administrators can eliminate the negative effects of gender role myths in the workplace and build exemplary organizations.


It is critical to understand gender role myths and the consequences of these myths. The research on gender role stereotypes is vast and offers law enforcement administrators important insights to understanding how stereotypes are learned, shape leadership behaviors in adulthood, and negatively affect legal outcomes for local governments. The following insights are worth noting:    




Beliefs Influenced by Peers

Beliefs, values, and norms about the role of women in the workplace are greatly influenced by family, peers, and teachers. F

amily, peers, and teachers wield significant influence over the beliefs, values, and norms law enforcement administrators have about the role of women in the workplace. From birth through adulthood, parents, close friends, and teachers provide verbal and non-verbal cues about the “appropriate” role of men and women in the workplace.

Examples include teaching young boys they are to be masculine and competitive while teaching young girls to be feminine and less competitive. Boys are taught to be the breadwinner and work in competitive/ masculine fields such as professional sports or firefighting, while girls are taught to be the caregiver of the family and to work in less competitive/feminine fields such as secretarial or social work. Men should be the breadwinner while the woman should be the caregiver for the family.



Legitimize Stereotypes


efying family, peers, and teachers and an irresoluteness to question their wisdom, insights and advice on gender roles legitimizes gender role stereotypes. Placing family, peers, and teachers on pedestals without questioning their wisdom, insights, and advice about the role of men and women in the workplace strengthens the effect of gender stereotypes in the minds of law enforcement administrators. Questioning the validity of learned gender roles is a difficult and personal challenge for the law enforcement administrator because doing so brings into question the validity of the wisdom, insights, and advice of his/her family, peers, and teachers.



Gender role stereotypes render law enforcement administrators vulnerable to engaging in workplace discrimination. Gender stereotypes reinforce and enhance opportunities for law enforcement administrators to engage in discriminatory behaviors against women in the workplace. Failing to assign job tasks to female police officers because the law enforcement administrator believes a man is more masculine for the task and/or denying promotion opportunities because the workplace environment consists of a “good ole boys” club where female police officers are excluded from job-related discussions and activities are common examples.


Leadership Capability

Gender role stereotypes diminish leadership capability and autonomy resulting in a need for government-established leadership directives and equality policies.

Passage of the

1963 Equal Pay Act, 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act,

1973 Crime Control Act,

and the 1978 Pregnancy Act are examples of government-mandated leadership actions to thwart gender role stereotypes in organizations. C

onsent decrees requiring federal monitors to oversee the implementation of non-discriminatory practices in the workplace are another example of how gender stereotypes solicit government-mandated leadership actions.

The economic cost of workplace gender discrimination is staggering. In 2012, private sector employers paid out approximately $356 million to settle workplace discrimination and harassment lawsuits while in the public sector, a county in Illinois paid $7.6 million in a discrimination lawsuit and a hospital in Sacramento, Calif. paid $168 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit.


Collaborative Leadership

Law enforcement administrators require practical solutions for eliminating the negative effects of gender discrimination in the workplace. A collaborative approach with General Counsel, Human Resources, educators, and staff can help. However, the law enforcement administrator must first self assess and identify personal negative motivations such as a hunger for power, arrogance, defensiveness, fear and ego before effective collaboration can begin.

The law enforcement administrator must exemplify and practice a collaborative style to help eliminate feelings of alienation by female police officers. With this in mind, the following collaborative measures can help in unifying the law enforcement organization around a common goal of maintaining a discrimination-free workplace, compliant with the law.


Legal Mandates

Know the legal mandates governing gender discrimination in the workplace. Every law enforcement administrator, police officer and staff member of the organization must know the laws governing gender discrimination in the workplace and the legal consequences for violating those laws. Law enforcement administrators must take an active role in coordinating the education of their officers and staff.

Merely posting federal discrimination laws in the break rooms is not enough. General Counsel and Human Resource departments can offer guidance. State Bar Associations may also provide assistance in locating certified attorneys who specialize in discrimination law and can facilitate workshops on discrimination laws and the consequences for violating those laws.

Conduct gender-stereotype awareness training. This step involves the law enforcement administrator arranging awareness and sensitivity training on gender role stereotyping and allows participants an opportunity to learn where and how their beliefs, values, and norms about gender roles evolved and to debunk gender role myths in a collaborative manner. Human Resource departments are a good source for guidance in conducting gender stereotype training, along with college and university public relations offices for referrals to certified educators.

Determine if the beliefs, values, and norms of law enforcement administrators, police officers, and staff toward women’s roles in the workplace conflict with the legal mandates governing gender discrimination.

If the beliefs, values, and norms held by law enforcement administrators, police officers, and staff about women’s roles in the workplace conflict with legal mandates governing gender discrimination in the workplace, establish appropriate steps to remedy the conflicts and comply with the law. Several training exercises are available and used globally. General Counsel, Human Resource departments, and certified educators serve as good sources for identifying and utilizing appropriate training methods.


Implement Change

Design and implement an ongoing collaborative plan to maintain a discrimination-free work environment, compliant with the law. The ongoing collaborative plan should have the unifying purpose of eliminating gender role stereotypes, establishing gender neutrality in the workplace as a core value, and reduce employee stress and the financial liabilities associated with gender discrimination in the workplace.

Law enforcement administrators, police officers, and staff should participate in the design of the plan and have a feeling of inclusion. To guide the process, Human Resources may recommend a facilitator. Keep in mind that the plan may require modifications once implemented. Law enforcement administrators must be flexible.





Collaborative leadership is a unifying approach law enforcement administrators have available to debunk gender role myths and strengthen their organizations. When organizations learn and problem solve as a team, gender stereotypes are weakened and public trust, work productivity, and liability protections are enhanced.






Lisa R. Grace is a Sergeant at a Michigan public safety agency. 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


Christopher Petras is an independent management and public policy consultant. He received his Doctor of Public Administration from Western Michigan University and has served as a visiting scholar teaching graduate and undergraduate courses.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2014

Rating : 9.0

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A Timely and Important Subject

Posted on : Aug 13 at 2:09 PM By EDC

This is an area in which it is of significant importance for law enforcement administrators to be able to view themselves with a critical eye and see where they may be falling short. Although women have made significant gains in the law enforcement field since the 70's and some Departments have taken action to correct the mistakes of the past, there are still far too many departments that are mired in a mentality embracing outdated stereotypes of women's capabilities and role in society.

It is incumbent upon all of us as law enforcement command officers to lead the way when change is called for and serve as an example for officers to follow. A failure to advance with the times and ensure equality in the workplace demonstrates a serious failure of leadership and one that could ultimately have quite negative consequences, not just for the agency, but for the command officer as well.

Great topic

Posted on : Aug 7 at 5:43 PM By Police Officer

Great topic. I hope all law enforcement administers take the time to read this article.

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