After almost two decades working in police communication roles I have seen a huge amount of change and particularly in relation to how women are viewed in the workplace. You might imagine that policing is a very macho organisation where getting ahead as a woman is challenging. When I joined in 1999 I might have agreed with you but 2018 is a very different place.
There are three women in charge of the big three in policing – the Metropolitan Police, the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council. There are a significant number of women in senior communication positions and with a voice in the development of communication strategy across the country.
Discussions in the workplace now openly include mental health, the menopause and there are flexible working patterns to help all employees. Wellbeing is a key consideration for all managers and senior leaders.
Does it sound like nirvana? It is a huge step forward but has taken almost 20 years to achieve and there is still a long way to go.
During my time I have seen women in top PR and communication roles put under immense pressure and many have found the emergency services life isn’t compatible with a satisfactory home life. I was asked after a presentation on my role to a local girls’ school whether I had to prove myself more because I was a woman in what is predominantly seen as a man’s world. It is something I have reflected on as I would have said no.
But getting to a senior position in any business as a woman brings with it huge challenges and realistically you have to be able to meet all of them to succeed. I have total respect to all the women who are juggling children and work because I haven’t managed it. I just about manage to have a small menagerie of animals that I have a support network helping with.
My work is all encompassing it can hit at any time of day or night and in an instant I have to be ready to advise on strategic communication, crisis response and many other elements. It is the same everywhere I know but a uniform service that works 24/7 is extra demanding. I have missed time with my family during holidays including Christmas, New Year and Easter and will often be glued to my phone on Saturday and Sunday.
At the heart of this push to be as good as, or better than, my male counterparts is one thing – confidence. It is the blight of PR and communication across the board. We lack the confidence to take our seat at the top table. We lack the confidence to shout about what we do publicly. We lack the confidence as women to say I do my job well but I also have a private life. Or at least some may do.
If I manage another year I will reach my long-service status within police communication. My working world is much better than it was when I joined and was asked by a senior male detective if the all-female comms team needed ‘pink curtains’ in the office. We can’t lose sight of the work that lies ahead and I hope women can get inspired by those who keep doing the role and try to drive further change.