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For the first time, a woman has been named chief of police in London. Cressida Dick, 56, succeeds Bernard Hogan-Howe in this coveted position. After a long career at Scotland Yard, she had left the police two years ago to take up a post at the Foreign Ministry.

The new head of the Metropolitan Police Service, the MET, commented on her appointment in these terms (according to The Guardian): “I am thrilled and humbled. This is a great responsibility and an amazing opportunity. I’m looking forward immensely to protecting and serving the people of London and working again with the fabulous women and men of the MET. Thank you so much to everyone who has taught me and supported me along the way.”

gender gaps remain and women are still largely outnumbered by men in positions of responsibility in all fields.

“Cressida Dick is an outstanding leader and she has a clear vision for the future of the metropolitan police,” Interior Minister Amber Rudd said. “She now occupies one of the most demanding and important positions in the British police services in a context of increased terrorist alert and growing threats of fraud or cyber crime,” she continued.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe added: “I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Cressida Dick. She has already achieved an incredible amount as a police officer and deserves the post as a very talented person. She is the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and will be a brilliant beacon for women within and beyond the MET.”

Nominated as the first female MET commissioner, Cressida Dick has become the first woman at the head of Britain’s largest police force in its 188-year history. With this nomination, it is legitimate to wonder if this will lead to encouraging more women to join the police in the hopes of getting to this level. Truly, until now, it was hard for a woman to see herself working and attaining the higher levels of the police since no woman had managed to reach such a role.

Equality between women and men is one of the European Union’s founding values, going back to 1957 when the principle of equal pay for equal work became part of the Treaty of Rome. However, gender gaps remain and women are still largely outnumbered by men in positions of responsibility in all fields. A declaration from the Office for National Statistics stated that “the glass ceiling supposedly holding women back is cracking up”. This claim has some basis, but still, the areas identified in which women are reaching proportions around 35 per cent in management are conventional female roles such as in the National Health Service (NHS) and in education. Persistent barriers women face on their way to the top have meant that change has been slow in coming. The first of those barriers is the combination of work and domestic responsibilities, which is difficult to reconcile with the ‘anytime, anywhere’ performance model where unfailing availability is expected, as well as geographic mobility. There is also another important barrier: the reticence of many women to advocate for themselves. The President of Eurojust agrees: “Women need to be encouraged. The first thing she might think is ‘I cannot do that’, whereas the first thing a man thinks without much hesitation is, ‘I can do that’.”

Cressida Dick and Theresa May are now two women with main roles in the British political system and this is certainly going to encourage women to join the police as this will help women to be seen as equal to men when in uniform and also in general everyday life. Until the First World War, there were no women police officers in the UK. Women made it into the post-war world facing much hostility from male police who considered that policing was ‘men’s work’ because it could be dangerous.

Indeed, if there has been a sense that the “big” jobs should be left to the men, these two elections should be on the right track to prove the contrary and start changing mentalities. Being in the police as a woman today means that you are part of a minority and this is complex: pride, humiliation, discrimination and empowerment are often tangled up in one career. It is now widely acknowledged that having more women in the police is crucial to building an institution that protects the rights of women and girls and facilitates, rather than hinders, their access to justice.

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Last year, the Aberdeen police recruitment team organised a special event to encourage women to join the police. “A career with the police is open to everyone,” they stated. “All police officers, regardless of gender or age, have access to the same opportunities for progression, development, and promotion and with flexible working opportunities for both women and men, there has never been a better time to work within the police service. We are holding this recruitment event specifically to address some of the questions and concerns women may have about joining as a Police Officer.” Hopefully, some further attempts will be made in Britain and in other countries to encourage women to join and remain in the police. In fact, a 2012 survey highlighted that more than four out of ten female police officers are so disillusioned with their profession that they have seriously considered quitting. In this same survey, concerns have been raised on the attention that was given to women in this profession. Among the main reasons for low morale that emerged in responses were the lack of opportunities for flexible working and a belief that the force does not consider women’s circumstances both when they are pregnant and when they return to work after having a child.

Studies show a significantly better quality of decision-making within more gender-balanced leadership teams, with gender-balanced workplaces also performing better.

There are however ways to reduce these inequalities. Some policies aimed at reducing differences among the characteristics of male and female officers would contribute to narrowing the gender gap in career progression. For example, policies that increase the representation of female officers in tactical occupations will reduce occupational differences between male and female officers and contribute to reducing the part of the gender gap in the retention and promotion outcomes attributable to observed differences. Further, among policies that aim to reduce observed differences in characteristics, policies that target work-family balance could have an important impact on reducing the explained gender gap in career progression. Attention must be given to structural factors, such as how retention decisions and the promotion process differ for male and female officers with the same characteristics. Some differences are more difficult to observe, such as those in attitudes toward military service and performance.

Several studies have shown that girls perform better than boys in school in general. However, this good performance is not found in the professional sphere. Indeed, in its annual report, the World Economic Forum deplores the decline in gender parity. Per their projections, it will not be until 2186 that the economic gap between the sexes will disappear. Studies show a significantly better quality of decision-making within more gender-balanced leadership teams, with gender-balanced workplaces also performing better. Hopefully, with the election of Cressida Dick and Theresa May in the UK and the increase in women candidates for higher political positions, women will be encouraged to take on jobs with a higher position in the hierarchy.

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