We’re celebrating International Women’s Day which recognises achievements of women from all over the globe. We’d like to introduce you to some of the women leading work to support gender equality, along with information about the benefits which make Avon and Somerset Police a great place for women to work in 2020.
In her role as strategic gender lead, Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Watson looks at the issues impacting women at work to create an environment where women can thrive.
“I am hugely grateful to the women within our police force who’ve made it their mission to improve gender equality,” says Nikki.
“We have seen improvements in both the number of women joining the police and those selected for promotion. This has been accelerated by new schemes like work-life balance seminars, flexible working/part-time support networks and promotion preparation workshops for under-represented groups.
“We still have plenty to do as there are certain areas where female representation remains low. I’m currently exploring how we can encourage women to progress their careers in exciting and rewarding areas like surveillance, firearms and officer safety training.
“There has never been a better time to be a woman working within Avon and Somerset Police. My intention going forward is that we are able to say this every year on International Women’s Day.”
Menopause – an everyday conversation
Inspector Julie Knight has been instrumental in making the menopause a non-taboo work subject. Having served as a police officer for nearly 30 years, she found herself needing her employer’s support when her own menopause experience made life a daily struggle.
Grateful for the support and understanding that allowed her to continue working, Julie has been leading a campaign to ensure the same is available to people across the force.
To create a supportive and responsive environment, Julie invited specialist trainers in to work with managers and anyone who was experiencing symptoms or wanted to know more.
Over 180 managers and 260 staff have been trained, putting them in a much better place to ask for the help they need or provide support to colleagues and those close to them.
Julie said, “The menopause is a natural life event that can hugely impact on a woman’s health and wellbeing, both at home and work.
“We wanted our staff to be able to talk freely about this inevitable stage in a woman’s life, be individually supported in the workplace and continue to feel their contribution matters. The feedback about this work has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The menopause is part of life and part of work. I am proud to have played a part in making it a part of our everyday conversation.”
A better work/life balance
Some employers believe unless an employee works full time, they cannot be committed to the job – this creates an obstacle for some women. At Avon and Somerset Police this is not the case. We are genuinely committed to flexibility which not only improves wellbeing, but also promotes equality and gives us the opportunity to work with lots of talented women.
We find people are looking for reduced hours to balance childcare, care for relatives or even take the time to pursue other interests and we are fully supportive of part time working. Lots of our roles are available on a part time basis only, however we are also open to exploring job share requests on full time opportunities, our main objective is recruiting the right person for the job.
We’re open other flexible working requests too. Most of our workforce are equipped with laptops and mobile phones giving us better flexibility to work from home. We also offer alternative working patterns with an earlier of later start and the option to compress hours to a shorter working week.
Training and coaching for women
Springboard is a development programme for women working at the police. It’s open to those wanting to reflect on their values and goals, with weekly sessions focusing on personal development.
The programme is led by trained coaches including Michele Hurst and Sally Fox who help women identify steps to making a better world for themselves at work and home, whilst building practical skills and confidence. It provides a safe and supportive space to explore common issues, barriers and challenges that women face in their personal and professional lives.
Springboard has been running in Avon and Somerset for more than 20 years and over 2,000 women from all backgrounds, ages and stages in life have benefitted. Previous participants often return as guest speakers to share their Springboard journeys and how the programme enabled their success.
Springboard is a pivotal aspect of our commitment to gender equality and since autumn 2019 it has been run jointly with Avon Fire and Rescue Service. We also run a leadership development programme for women called Spring Forward and a programme for men called Navigator.
Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew, is head of inclusion and diversity and our most senior female police officer. She says;
“Things have changed a lot since I joined the police and my experience of this progress has shown me the importance of equality and inclusivity. Today, inclusivity is one of our force values which means we appreciate different perspectives and challenge all forms of discrimination. We see individuality as a strength and we respect each other.
“Policing is sometimes portrayed as old fashioned, patriarchal and macho, but in reality it’s a rewarding career with great opportunities for women. Our workforce is currently 48% female and representation in police ranks is improving, but we still need more female police officers.
“We now have a greater understanding of the benefits to having more women in different roles. Not only is it ‘the right thing to do’ but it also helps us to build stronger community relations, trust and confidence. When women are empowered to fulfil their potential, everyone benefits and it maximises employee health, wellbeing and productivity.
“We know there is a great deal still to be done and we will work tirelessly to achieve it. Gender equality isn’t a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s responsibility.”
Black women in policing – momentum for change
Serena Serjeant never considered a career with the police. As a young 5’1 dual-heritage woman from a tough council estate she considered the organisation that she respected wholeheartedly to be inaccessible to those who weren’t 6’0 white males.
Her life changed at the age of 21 when, on her way to work as an emergency theatre assistant in a local infirmary, she came across an Avon and Somerset police recruitment stand – and was shocked to discover they encouraged her to join.
She has now been with the force for 17 years as a police officer. Having risen to the rank of Sergeant, Serena is part of the Inclusion and Diversity team, encouraging others to join and creating a workforce that reflects the communities we serve.
“I am proud to work for an organisation where the drive for gender equality comes from the very top. Here everything feels possible and I am inspired by female top-ranking officers and leader who are determinedly driving forward change and ensuring women have ever greater opportunities within our force.” says Serena.
“When I go into the community I take out the message that your gender, your age and your background doesn’t matter. We are creating a momentum for change – and want you to join us.”
Inspiring the women of tomorrow
Nikki Watson joined Avon and Somerset Police straight from University with an ambition to one day become a Chief Superintendent. She has progressed beyond that to Assistant Chief Constable with a work remit that includes responsibility for serious and organised crime investigations, firearms, intelligence, criminal justice and major events.
She attributes much of her success to the support received during her 32 years’ service.
“I often didn’t apply for promotion without a nudge from a supervisor and even then, I was unsuccessful several times at different ranks.” Nikki recalls.
“However I was positively influenced and shaped by female and male inspirational leaders, and supported by people I respected and trusted. They gave me the confidence to keep going.
“Now it’s my turn to hopefully be an inspirational figure for tomorrow’s leaders. I’m passionate about seeing more diversity and inclusion in every corner of our existing workforce and with new joiners.
“My ambition is that women have the confidence to ‘go for it’ and not be dissuaded by internal demons when considering development and promotion.
“I want us all to be proud of what we have achieved – whilst always striving for even more.”