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Fewer women in policing because fewer want the job

A significant reason there are fewer women in policing is that fewer women are interested, but other — potentially larger — questions loom

The discussion sparked by my question “Why aren’t there more women in police work?” has provided food for thought and fuel for future articles. 

Permit me to answer the original question, based on reader comments and emails and empirical evidence. 

Last month, I posited two possible answers to my question:

1.)    The profession discriminates and holds women back.
2.)    Women aren’t interested in police work.

While the answer isn’t as simple as either of those possibilities, I’ve concluded the second has much more of an effect than the first — I’m open to anyone persuading me otherwise.

I fly a bush plane with my shotgun, fly rod, retriever, and high aspirations. I also know my way around a tool box. I don’t know many women with those interests in my home state of Alaska, let alone elsewhere. And it’s not because we’re discriminated against. I’ve been welcomed and encouraged by my husband and his buddies. I’m unfairly considered cooler than my husband because I’m a dame who flies, fishes and hunts.

Most women simply don’t share my interests.

Different Interests
I don’t deny policing has gender (and other) discriminated in its past and still may — intentionally or ignorantly. But I believe the profession is changing, as is society.

Across the nation I see agencies actively trying to recruit capable women and portraying police work as an exciting and satisfying career choice for women. The profession has examined and, in many instances, made changes to earlier physical standards in an attempt not to exclude women who are capable of doing the job.

Women comprise more than half the population, and gender discrimination in the United States is illegal. The discrimination that still exists can nowhere near explain the low percentage of women in physically demanding and dangerous jobs. Otherwise, given our robust supply of eager lawyers, we’d have many more lawsuits than we do.

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census reported the 10 most dangerous jobs (policing wasn’t among them). Each is heavily male-dominated

In the 1970s women comprised less than two percent of police officers. That figure was 11.9 percent in 2010. In 1970 about 2.7 percent of registered nurses were men. In 2011 that percentage had only grown to 9.6 percent

There are explanations for the male or female domination of certain jobs other than discrimination. Some readers cited societal expectations and roles.

Think “guns and fast cars.”

Think “nurturing and care-taking.”

Do you expect those job aspects to equally attract men and women?

I don’t. Not even with today’s more expansive gender roles.

Every Cop Needs a Wife
One of the reactions that struck me in last month’s readers’ comments was the demeaning reference to female officers getting “knocked up” — it merits mention that both a male and female officer posted this.

Accompanying this description of child bearing was resentment regarding different duty assignments for pregnant female officers. A contrasting vision came to me — the announcement that a male officer is to become a father being greeted with congratulations, back slaps, and cigars.

I received emails from successful, champions-of-the-profession female officers who spoke of the extra difficulties of balancing the unique demands of policing with household and child-rearing duties, even when they weren’t single mothers. One such officer wrote how she was lucky because her husband liked to cook, but then she went on to balance that against her grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, bill paying and child-rearing.

When a male cop decides to have a family, he often has a supportive wife who takes on a disproportionate amount of the child-rearing and household duties. A female cop who decides to have a family is that wife.

In a 2011 study by the Center for Work and Family at Boston College, 65 percent of fathers believed that both parents should contribute equally in child-rearing — but only 30 percent of the fathers actually did so. And it’s not because men are the primary bread winners and women are stay-at-home moms. Almost half of all working women provide at least half of the family income, and women are the major breadwinners in nearly a third of all American households. But they remain far more likely to take time off from work for sick kids, and surveys show fathers have more leisure time than mothers.  

I don’t think we should blame only men for this.

It would be nice if men volunteered to change bed linens, clean toilets, load and unload dishwashers, and bake last-minute cookies for the kids’ class parties, but why should they if we’ll do it? Don’t seethe, resent, and give the silent treatment. Ask, insist, praise, repeat. Children learn what they live. What future do you want for your working daughters and sons?

The More Important Question
A significant reason there are fewer women in policing — in my opinion — is that fewer women are interested. The majority of those who are interested and able must also weigh that choice in the context of doing a disproportionate share of household and child-rearing duties as compared to male officers.

I now think the more important question for policing (and nursing, cosmetology, the military, firefighting, elementary education, etc.) is how to best ensure we attract and don’t exclude those of either gender who are motivated and capable of doing the job.

Stay Tuned
In coming months, we’re going to tackle: 
•    Double physical standards for male and female officers
•    What job skills are necessary and most important to meet the demands of modern policing (is too much emphasis placed on the physical?)
•    How do we attract, test, hire, and train for these skills

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