Parallel lines? The homogeneous and gendered career patterns of senior leaders in policing in England and Wales

Jackie Anne Alexander, Sarah Charman

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Under-representation of women in policing is a global phenomenon, with considerable commonality in barriers to career success and differential career experiences compared to men. Through a comparative analysis utilising unique survey and interview data with female and male senior police leaders in England and Wales, this paper considers whether cultural and structural barriers persist and how they are experienced by gender; examines the challenges encountered en route to senior rank; and considers how similarities or differences by gender impact upon careers. The findings are considered to have world-wide relevance, demonstrating that those officers achieving seniority tend to share similar career experiences whatever their gender, particularly at the highest ranks. Leadership styles emerge as homogenous with agentic traits and traditional styles persisting. Costs to achieving higher rank appear to differ by gender however, and access to senior rank is revealed as dependent upon engaging in traditional behaviours including a long-hours culture and ensuring family does not reduce work capacity, effectively promoting a ‘child-tax’ upon female policing leaders. It thus appears that a widespread and global tacit acceptance of policing as a male-dominated profession endures, impacting on female advancement compared to men.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolice Practice and Research
Early online date4 Jul 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 4 Jul 2023


  • gender
  • career experiences
  • police leadership
  • child-tax

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