Negotiating Gender and Police Culture: Exploring the Barriers to Retention and Progression of Female Police Officers in New Zealand
Women officers represent a minority within the New Zealand Police (Police) particularly within the senior ranks. In recent years, Police have made concerted efforts to increase women’s representation as well as improve the working environment. However, recent reviews of the 2007 Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct have reported that women continue to face barriers to full integration and furthermore, that the changes to the police culture have reached a plateau. New Zealand and international research have established that police culture continues to pose a barrier to women’s full acceptance within policing. This culture is characterised by predominantly white, heterosexual males, who form what has been described as a “cult of masculinity”. Therefore, women find they must adopt the culture in order to “fit in” and be accepted as “one of the boys”. Adopting a qualitative framework, this research involved semi-structured face-to-face interviews with sworn female police officers. Exploring female police officers’ experiences identified five pertinent barriers to women’s retention and progression. These were the emphasis on physical skills and excitement, the police camaraderie and the cult of masculinity, sexual harassment within the workplace, women’s minority status, and balancing motherhood with policing. It was found that the persistence of these barriers came back to core features of police culture. Due to the strong allegiance to the positive aspects of the police culture, such as the camaraderie, negative features such as sexual banter and harassment were subsumed within the wider culture. Negative features were tolerated and accepted as part and parcel of working in the Police. Women’s narratives demonstrated that they adhered to core police culture features and thus contributed to the sustenance of the culture. Furthermore, how women articulated their experiences and perceptions of barriers was complex and nuanced. Many held the belief that there were no longer any barriers for women in the Police, yet such positive views were in contradiction with their own experiences. The tension between “perceptions” and “reality” creates a situation where the Police currently sit at a crossroads between the “old” culture and the new rhetoric of “change”.