How have things changed for women in policing?

Detective Superintendent Jackie Alexander shares her views.

"I would move to new postings or on a promotion and find everyone seemed a bit suspicious of me and my ability."

Detective Superintendent Jackie Alexander Standards Manager for Professional Development and Integrity at the College.

To mark International Women's Day earlier this month, Jackie Alexander gave her views on how things have changed for women in policing since she joined the service nearly 30 years ago.

What made you want to become a police officer?

​Like many of my colleagues, policing was not something I actually grew up thinking I wanted to do, and I joined almost on a whim. I had finished university, had a job in sales that I found boring, and didn't really know what I wanted to do. One day I saw a policewoman walking ahead of me in Leicester city centre, and I just thought her job looked more interesting than mine. Next thing I knew I had joined. I guess I wanted something exciting, varied and which involved team work, and I was at last ready to give up clubbing every weekend to achieve it! But I knew from the moment I arrived at training school that I had made the right decision.

What challenges did you face in becoming a police officer and also working your way up to becoming detective superintendent?

The main challenges were that that culture didn't expect someone so young and 'inexperienced', let alone female, to be their sergeant or inspector, or senior leader, so I would move to new postings or on a promotion and find everyone seemed a bit suspicious of me and my ability. However, by being prepared to ask for help, not pretending I knew anything if I didn't, always caring about my team, and showing I was prepared to take responsibility for my own decisions and the work of the team, I soon earned the trust and confidence of my colleagues. Also standing up against any discrimination or comments and not being too worried about what others thought of me helped a lot, I wasn't going to be held back by the prejudices of others.

What do you enjoy most about your role as superintendent and what do you enjoy the least?

I've really loved getting involved in and sometimes even influencing national work, and trying to make sure my departments are providing the best service to the public as possible. I know that might sound clichéd, but I've not worked with officers and staff yet that don't want to continually up their game and improve on how they support and help those in need. A lot of good practice comes locally from the practitioners themselves – you just have to listen to their suggestions about what will work, and then find a way to implement it with the resources you have. There's very little I haven't enjoyed, but it's very frustrating when your team have done a really good job but someone still doesn't get convicted by a jury for example.

How has policing for women changed since you started your career?

​When I joined we still had to wear skirts in the day, we had a stocking or tights allowance, and were called WPCs. Sexist language and discrimination was overt, and there was no part-time working. Now the challenges are more subtle and indirect. The long-hours culture for example, makes it especially hard for women with caring responsibilities to progress - but it affects men too who want to take on a bigger share of the childcare and enjoy their families while they are still young.

As a high ranking police officer how do you manage to achieve a work life balance?

​I actually think having children made this easier, not harder. I was already an inspector before I had my first child and would often be asked 'how do manage with young children' but I would look at my colleagues without children and realise it could be even harder for them to leave the office as they did not have the 'excuse' of childcare. More flexible working because of technology has both helped and hindered too. Helped, because you can easily work from home too, but hindered, because you never really escape it.

What advice would you give to young women thinking of becoming a police officer?

I look around my friends now aged 50 (and a bit!) and in my opinion, none of them have had as fulfilling and satisfying a career as I have (they might say differently of course!). Policing is as varied a career as you will find anywhere, so if its job-satisfaction that you are going for, then give it a go. You've nothing to lose.

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