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The Longest Climb

It's a tough journey to the top, but women cops are slowly working their way up the law enforcement ladder.

October 01, 1996  |  by Sara Roen

Networking, mentoring, career tracking; these are words more likely to be heard at the local chamber of commerce than in the front seat of a patrol car. Yet, as corporate America re-evaluates how it does business, female law enforce­ment officers are examining and adopting effective business tactics to attain top levels in their profession.

Despite a continuing increase of women in police work, their numbers in leadership positions remain low, according to many law enforcement professionals. Women hold chief positions in major cities that include Atlanta, Los Angeles and Austin, but females make up only about 10 per­cent of the nation's law enforcement population. Meanwhile, many of those women have realized they face the same career advancement issues as do women employed in corporate management. It's that realization that has prompted many female police officers to join forces and aggressive­ly pursue helping each other advance to executive level ranks.

"Twenty years ago we were just lucky to get on," said Alana Ennis, director of public safety and police chief at Duke University. "You didn't even think about (advancement). All you were trying to do was just fit in."

Changing with the Times

Women in law enforcement were such anomalies, no one envisioned females holding leadership posi­tions, much less working in patrol, Ennis recalled. Adopting networking strategies used by business profession­als has made a tremendous difference in helping women realize their poten­tial and the opportunities available in law enforcement, she said.

Ennis has been dedicated to helping establish the Women's Police Chief Association, an organization that will offer networking opportunities to those seeking and holding high rank posts. The group, which is in its early stages, will focus on mentoring to oth­ers moving toward and planning to crash through the glass ceiling. Ennis said the organization has scheduled its first seminar this year.

Ennis, who served as director of pub­lic safety at the University of North Car­olina before moving to Duke, said men and women police officers share career issues, but years of tradition have given men the advantage.

She added that camaraderie among women has been low because so few women hold top level positions. Ennis is not alone in her beliefs.

"Even after being in law enforcement for 20 years, I never thought I'd be saying this-but we still have a long way to go," said Linda Cherry, president of the International Association of Women Police, which carries a membership of 2,000. Cherry, a deputy marshal with the U.S. Marshal Service, said women have discovered great benefits from establish­ing and maintaining contacts with female peers.

"Even though women have been in law enforcement a long time, there still are places where we are not fully given an opportunity to advance in our careers," Cherry said, adding that IAWP currently is developing executive train­ing programs designed to educate up ­and-coming women. Topics will include: what agencies are seeking in terms of administrators; how to super­vise male officers; how they respond to females in command positions; and how other women officers respond.

Making Contacts

Networking is important, she said, because there were no outlets in the past where female officers could find and communicate with each other. Today, several organizations exist that provide job information, mentor­ing services and educational assis­tance in preparing for targeting a route toward an executive position.

It is an issue that is gaining atten­tion from leaders in law enforcement. At the annual International Associa­tion of Chiefs of Police in Miami last year, for instance, a panel discussion focused on promotional opportunities for women police. Earlier in the year, at the annual conference for the Police Education and Research Foun­dation (PERF), a similar panel was created to address how women are utilizing business strategies for advancement.

At that seminar, the five-member panel of top female cops connected immediately and made a concerted effort to develop their association and stay in touch-which they have done, according to Chief Ellen T. Hanson, head of the Lenexa (Kansas) Police Department.

"We have exchanged information back and forth about job opportuni­ties-things that I've found out about and forwarded to several members on the panel," Hanson said. Many mem­bers contact each other via E-mail, telephone calls and conference calls, she added.

Hanson, who participated on the PERF panel, said that while it can be time consuming, networking is bene­ficial for women as they work toward breaking through the established male network-the result of what has traditionally been seen as a man's profession, she noted. Getting to the top is tough for men, and even more difficult for women, she said.

"It's an internal thing, breaking into the 'good old boy' network," Hanson explained. "That's why some of us feel strongly about separating. You can't break a group apart; you have to be a part of it and make things better from the inside. That's worked well for me," said Hanson, who has been a police officer for 20 years. Her female peers are focused on working at high levels with men, rather than alienating themselves. "We just want to be treated equally. That's all we ask."

A Juggling Act

According to statistics presented by the panel, only 9 percent of sworn officers working in the United States in 1993 were women. Today, 3 percent of those working as police officers hold the rank of sergeant. And only I percent hold command positions.

"Law enforcement is still not seen as viable employment for females," said panelist Joy Rikala, chief of police at the University of Minnesota, which is said to be the largest campus in the United States. Rikala, who has worked organized crime investigations, narcotics and police corruption, has served on several federal task forces studying continuing education and police devel­opment issues. She holds a master's degree in management and is a gradu­ate of the FBI Academy.

"Often, we get out of patrol and go into specialized units. Females become satisfied with that as a career goal, and there's no more development," Rikala said. She added that women must work harder than men to get considered for advancement to echelon levels; however, the time commitment often becomes too great. "The perception is that females have got to give more," she added.

That, says Hanson, is a major prob­lem for women. The only way for any officer-male or female-to get pro­moted is to work harder and be better than the others. That's not always easy.

CONTINUED: The Longest Climb «   Page 1 of 3   »

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