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Alarm bells ring as the number of women applying for PSNI drops

By Deborah McAleese

Published 20/10/2015

Superintendent Paula Hilman (right) and Chief Superintendent Barbara Gray at PSNI headquarters
Superintendent Paula Hilman (right) and Chief Superintendent Barbara Gray at PSNI headquarters

Serious concerns have been raised over the lack of female representation within the PSNI, with twice as many men as women now applying to join the force, it can be revealed.

Calls have been made for the force to reverse the trend after a policing expert described it as a "male dominated" organisation.

New police statistics show that just three in 10 people applying to join the organisation are women.

In the first phase of a PSNI recruitment drive, launched in 2013 after a three-year jobs freeze, 7,493 people applied to join. Just 35% of applicants were female.

Similarly last year, during phase two of recruitment, just 35% of 5,856 applicants were women.

Phase three of the recruitment drive is still ongoing and police chiefs are hoping it will attract a higher pool of women. However, early indications of the gender breakdown are understood to be disappointing.

Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said that urgent action was needed to address the gender imbalance.

"It is very concerning that we are unable to attract more women to join the organisation. The PSNI and Policing Board recognise that we have a problem here, so we need to focus and address this quickly.

Policing expert Dr Jonny Byrne, a lecturer in criminology at the Ulster University, said that the Patten reforms placed strong emphasis on the need for proper accountability to the community the police serve "by ensuring that their composition was not dissimilar to the society in which they policed".

"Therefore, it is crucial that the organisation with the support of the Policing Board does all that it can to encourage women to join the PSNI," he said.

Dr Byrne added that there were several reasons females were not signing up to join the police service: "It could be argued that it has not been viewed as a family-friendly career where it is difficult to balance the demands of shift work with caring responsibilities. Furthermore, it may be because policing is framed very much through a public order and counter terrorism lens, or that, there is lack of women represented within the upper echelons of the organisation from Assistant Chief Constable through to Chief Constable and therefore, they perceive it as a male dominated institution."

Concern had also been raised recently about the low level of new female recruits making it through to graduation.

The PSNI was recently forced to change its fitness test for new recruits to address concerns over the high failure rate of women applicants. In May, just weeks after a senior officer claimed that women in Northern Ireland were not fit enough to pass the physical exam for potential recruits, the organisation changed its one-strike policy.

Candidates, both male and female, who fail the gruelling test are now given a second chance.

And last month a controversial section of the test, which stimulates a struggle, was scrapped after complaints it was unfair to women.

Recently two of Northern Ireland's most senior female officers said they were concerned by the under-representation of women in the PSNI.

However, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Chief Superintendent Barbara Gray and Superintendent Paula Hilman, insisted that many experienced policewomen were making their way up the ranks of the force.

Following the departure last year of Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, there are currently no women on the PSNI's top command team. Females also only fill two of the Chief Superintendent posts.

Despite warnings over the gender imbalance, female representation in the PSNI today is double what it was pre-Patten. Pre-Patten just 12% of the force was female. Today women make up almost 30% of the organisation.

Belfast Telegraph

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