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How to Develop Female Law Enforcement Leaders

How to Develop Female Law Enforcement Leaders

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By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety

What are some of the major impediments keeping female law enforcement officers from advancing to high-ranking positions? How can agencies help their female officers develop leaderships skills along with the personal confidence required to take on such supervisory roles?

These were some of the questions asked during a panel discussion at the 120th annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia. Several prominent women discussed ways to enhance female leadership within law enforcement.

The panelists discussed the IACP Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI), which launched in May 2012. This initiative offers leadership training and skill development for women of all ranks. While it is not exclusive to women, it is largely focused on the challenges women face in law enforcement and the impediments of their career growth. Many of the women on this Sunday morning panel are career female law enforcement officers who have faced challenges moving up the ranks.

“I always wanted to be a police officer,” said Bernadette DiPino, a 25-year law enforcement veteran who is currently the Chief of Police in Sarasota, Fla. There are five generations of law enforcement officers in her family, including her daughter. While DiPino said while she was fortunate to have the mentorship of her father, a career police officer, it was difficult being one of the few women in the department.

“There were a lot of things I didn’t know about working in a male-dominated occupation,” she said. “I wish I had more women role models. I help my daughter now, but there are a lot of women in organizations who don’t have that type of leadership.”

The WLI program offers female law enforcement officers a variety of benefits. “They leave with new leadership skills, ways to survive in organizations, coping mechanisms, and ways to be successful,” said DiPino. Most importantly, women are also able to learn and connect with one another.

Similarly, Lisa Holmes, a deputy superintendent in the Boston Police Department, said this training is vital for women. Among many benefits, it gives women more confidence about how to discuss their achievements, she said.

“Women tend to underscore the successes in our careers. This helps women understand that telling people what you do and what you’re good at is not boasting or bragging,” said Holmes. Through this program, women learn how to better sell themselves and communicate their strengths to others. 

There is also a strong career planning aspect in the institute. It is difficult—for anyone—to truly evaluate oneself and identify one’s strengths and weaknesses. It has been very beneficial for many students to discuss their weaknesses with others in a safe environment and in a constructive manner. Such an exercise can provide a huge boost to confidence and highlight that they have the experience and skills to take on more significant leadership roles.

Here are some things agencies must do to develop effective leaders (male and female):

  • Properly socializing new officers. While many agencies conduct orientation training, they do not take the time to truly socialize the officer within the department. Instead, socialization is done by the officers field training officer (FTO) assigned to them and the results are not always good. Take the time to socialize new officers because if you don’t, someone else will.
  • Face issues of inequity in your department. Leaders need to recognize how impactful it is on an officer when they do not receive a promotion or transfer that they believe they deserved. Many times leaders let people work through these situations themselves, which some can, but most cannot. Talk about these issues before they fester.
  • Focus on transformational leadership. Many agencies focus on changing an officer’s behavior, but instead focus on changing their beliefs and attitudes. If you can do this, people will change their own behavior.

The goal of the institute is to help bring women up in the ranks of law enforcement, and ensure that the next generation of women are prepared for leadership positions.

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