Capt. Rhonda Lawson, president of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), became the first female field captain in the Texas Highway Patrol's history. In her experience, many officers resent competition with minorities for desired positions.
"Some people see females and minorities as threats because they believe they have unfair advantages when it comes to the promotional process," she says.
But that's not true, says Maj. Dwayne Orrick, who heads up the Training and Support Services Division at the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office. And perpetuating this "us vs. them" attitude pushes women out of the field, when what law enforcement really needs to do is invite more women in, he says.
"Women are the most underrepresented protected class in law enforcement today," says Orrick. Yet they make up more than half of college graduates and studies show they make excellent law enforcement employees.
He believes bringing more women into law enforcement could help fill the need for more officers as veterans retire. "We won't be able to address the issues of vacancies that will occur in the next few years if we don’t start focusing on attracting more women, and I mean right now," warns Orrick. "Because between 2010 and 2020 we're going to have a 20% reduction in the number of people in the workforce because of the aging of the baby boomers and the reduction in the number of Generation Y that will replace them." And if law enforcement doesn't hire them as female officers, plenty of other public safety organizations and the private sector will snap them up.
Lawson sought out the members of NAWLEE to help guide her along a career path because she did not feel she had a support network or anyone to turn to for advice or help in career advancement.
"Not enough emphasis is placed on mentoring female supervisors outside of women law enforcement organizations," Lawson says. "I think some agencies and surprisingly some females are hesitant to have training or mentoring programs specifically for female officers. Inherently, female supervisors face different challenges than their male counterparts and it is important that agencies implement workplace diversity through extensive supervisory training programs."
Officers from different backgrounds help improve law enforcement agencies, Orrick says, by introducing different ways of thinking.
New generations of both genders and all backgrounds will be filling retirees' shoes going forward, so it's important to understand generational differences and how they change the dynamics of an organization – at both the individual and group level.
The new generation of officers entering law enforcement expects immediate feedback, answers to why rules are followed, and strives for a better work-life balance that includes taking more vacation and working less overtime. These are just a few differences between new and veteran officers that require a different approach to supervising and interaction at all levels.