A personal message from the author of:
TOP COPS: Profiles of Women in Command
Top Cops: Profiles of Women in Command is this feminists way of shining a light on just a few of an elite
group of women in policing whose persistence and dedication place them among the trailblazers in law enforcement. They are not only mentors for women in law enforcement - they are examples for all women of how
skill, dedication, and a much-needed sense of humor can succeed in breaking through a male-dominated "blue wall" in order to achieve command positions.
Who are the women who have attained command positions? They are tall, short, sturdy, and petite. They are blond, brunette, red-headed, and gray-haired. They are from varied ethnic and racial backgrounds. There is no physical stereotype. But they do share some characteristics. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a psychoanalyst and a storyteller. She wrote a book titled "Women Who Run With The Wolves." Estes says that as women have attempted to fit into society's rigid roles, they have allowed themselves to become over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, and trapped.
She also says that within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Estes calls her a "Wild Woman."
I CALL HER A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER.
In the interviews I conducted to write Top Cops, and in the many women officers I met and spoke to during the past year, I saw those good instincts. I saw their passionate creativity and ageless knowing. Each of the women I spoke to showed an overwhelming sense of maintaining their identities-as strong, determined women who did not choose to succeed by being "one of the boys," and who believe strongly in individual responsibility. They see the world as it is, not as they wish it were. But at the same time, each has a clear focus on how it should be, and a truly burning desire to make a difference - one step at a time - and to make policing better - for themselves, for society-and for the women who will follow in their footsteps.
All the women I interviewed cited visibility in the community as being important to their careers: it provides status within the department, and provides a role model for recruiting more women into the ranks - and there is strength in numbers!
They all maintain strong partnerships with their communities through volunteer activities. From serving on boards, to helping the disadvantaged directly, to representing their departments at community functions. It doesn't matter if the department is trying to show you off as its "token woman" - what matters is being seen and having the opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and your concern.
Although less than half the group envisioned themselves in command positions early in their careers, all decided to keep on an upward track following their first promotion. Keep in mind, none of the women I interviewed had role models in Top Command; few women were even in uniform. Today, all see themselves as role models for other officers (men and women), for new recruits, as well as for young women in their communities.
Each of the women in Top Cops, expressed their individuality. They had to. They had few role models-although your numbers of growing. Most
were the only women in their
academy classes. They could not hide in a sea of male faces-and none tried to. Each did have someone-a man or a woman-from whom they learned, or who gave them some encouragement, even (as in one case) if it
was just a note left on a locker that said "welcome."
In some cases, their mentors helped them study for promotional exams; in other instances they guided them to the more visible assignments. In many cases, they just provided moral support - a "you can do it" attitude. For one woman, who later went on to be named "Chief," it was a group of secretaries who taught her procedures, while her male colleagues virtually ignored her. All the women learned to learn from everyone, AND to trust their own instincts.
Another similarity among the Top Cops was FIERCE determination. In all cases, these women never backed down in the face discrimination. They did not wait until a situation was out of control. They confronted male
detractors head-on using their communications skills. (Well, a couple of them did use their fists when talk didn't work!)
For the most part, though, they handled the situations on their own, without appealing to supervisors with a "he said," "she said," argument.
For at least two of the women I profiled, the courts played a role in their early career fights for equal opportunity. (For many, yet today, the courts are still factors in making the promotional playing field equal.)
All the women I interviewed faced gender discrimination in one way or another: on the streets and in their agencies. Some had to "adapt" - for example one said she had to concentrate on not letting her voice get too high-pitched, and another began speaking very loudly to be heard in meetings; but in all cases, they also felt that gender DISTINGUISHED them on the job in a positive way. While they did not describe any "gender-specific strategy" to win promotions, they did cite their abilities to communicate to offenders on the street, in jail cells, and particularly in domestic situations, as factors leading to success. More than once, I heard the phrase, "I said, 'let me handle this one.'" They were not afraid to fail - and all were eager to try something new.
ALL OF THE WOMEN I INTERVIEWED ALSO MADE A POINT OF SAYING THEY MAINTAINED THEIR FEMININITY - that was very important to them. Whether it was keeping their hair long, their fingernails polished, or how they carried themselves. They felt no need to "swagger like the men" - as one put it; or "drink with the guys" or "cuss" - as another said.
Another important aspect to moving up the ranks today, as cited by the women I spoke to, is education. Most of the women in Top Cops are FBI Academy graduates and have Bachelor's degrees; four of the thirteen have Master's degrees; and two are law school graduates.
Beyond the things that can be quantified, there was a strong sense of "I can do it" among the women. Eleanor Roosevelt said: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." All of the women in Top Cops dared to dream - at first about becoming an officer, and later about being in command.
This type of spirit, this courage, is evident in every one of the women I interviewed. They did not wake up one morning and decide to take a leading role in the fight for equal rights in the workforce. That role was foisted upon them by an unenlightened society, and by an occupation still
clearly identified with masculine stereotypes. But each and every one of these wonderful women - these wonderful law enforcement officers - accepted the challenge,and encourage others to do the same! Is it easy?
No. Is it worth it? Yes.
In the words of Marian Wright Edelman: "If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time." Adapted from a presentation given at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the
National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives. Copyright © 1999 by Marion E. Gold. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.