Pregnancy on patrol
: a critical exploration of the issues surrounding pregnancy, maternity and operational policing

  • Bryony Harding

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Research has long established the under representation of women police. A
historical focus on discrimination and harassment in an overtly masculinised police
environment has dominated discussion, with commentators failing to take into
account the most feminine of all life experiences – procreation. This research
critically assesses the impact of pregnancy and maternity upon the operational
policing experience.

A gendered theoretical conceptual framework informs a qualitative research strategy comprising in-depth interviews with serving women constables and senior officers. Are female officers’ experiences of deployment, training and career progression negatively affected by pregnancy, maternity and care responsibilities? An acceptance that police organisations are not gender neutral permits a feminist, contextualised approach, which seeks to establish the reality of managing pregnant and newly maternal women in policing.

Findings suggest that female officers’ deployment and progression are significantly impacted by pregnancy and maternity. Police career structures remain dictated by dominant masculine values, which reinforce development structures built on the male life cycle. A risk averse culture to managing pregnancy was apparent. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and child-friendly flexible working necessitate multiple individual role moves, especially for uniformed officers. This restricts the use and development of women’s policing skills. A masculinised police culture appears resistant to family-friendly policies, despite evidence that such policies can be managed successfully in practice.

Conceptions of operational career success are heavily gendered. The male body,
which does not bear the responsibility of reproduction, remains the standard
template. It is argued that it is not being a woman but being a mother that restricts the progression of women police. Progression pathways must acknowledge the female life cycle and adapt practices and policies to welcome this important difference if police services are to succeed in increasing female representation across all levels of their organisations.
Date of AwardApr 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorPhil Clements (Supervisor) & Adrian James (Supervisor)

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