Engendering change or an enduring status quo?
: an analysis of the gendered experiences of senior police officers and the impact of gender on leadership in contemporary policing

  • Jackie Alexander

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Drawing on and contributing to the theoretical frameworks of police culture, leadership, and gender, this thesis critically examines the perceptions and experiences of male and female senior police officers (superintendent rank and above) in England and Wales. It considers whether gender and/or gender bias impacts on career progression, and how this may be preventing the service from achieving police reform.

Utilising a mixed methods approach, the extant literature from a broad range of international studies and primary and secondary data are considered. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of 231 surveys and thirty one-to-one interviews are conducted, facilitating comparisons by both rank and gender, allowing similarities and differences within the data to be drawn.

Key findings, which are likely to be of relevance to police forces worldwide, include the similarity of senior officer career paths, particularly for those achieving the highest ranks, and the career advantage provided through subjective sponsorship. Leadership styles emerge as homogenous, with agentic traits and traditional approaches persisting. A ‘time served’ and ‘long-hours’ culture, together with challenges with regards to juggling work and family life, prevail. Most senior women in the study were married to police officers and were significantly more likely than the males in the study to have no children or small families.

Despite evidence of the positive impact increased diversity could have for police reform, the number of female police officers remains disproportionately low, with evidence that the numbers are in danger of receding further. Female new recruit proportions are unchanged in a decade, and promotion rates appear to have flat-lined, with female promotions to sergeant and chief constable ranks particularly low. Women are also leaving policing prematurely. Despite this, there are no centralised concerns being expressed regarding gender disproportionality, suggesting a tacit acceptance of the stereotype of policing as a male-dominated profession.

This research concludes that while there is evidence of some genuine desire for transformation, the traditional elements of police culture, masculine characteristics of organisational leadership, and prevailing constructs of gender combine to produce a ‘Groundhog Day’ effect, which continues to over-shadow attempts to change.

Recommendations to assist police forces in achieving those benefits associated with organisations that value diversity are proposed, with a focus on gender parity in recruitment, a national graduate-entry scheme with summer internships; temporary promotion opportunities and steps to help women achieve the first supervisory rank highlighted as particularly likely to facilitate change.
Date of AwardSept 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorSarah Charman (Supervisor)

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