PSNI labelled 'male, pale and grey' as board urges bosses to address lack of females in force
The PSNI is in danger of becoming an 'old boys club' with just two women occupying one of the top 24 policing posts, it has been warned.
As another high-ranking policewoman leaves the organisation, the PSNI is under pressure to show that the force is "modern and representative".
Chief Superintendent Michelle Larmour is leaving the organisation to join West Midlands Police chief officer team as an Assistant Chief Constable.
The highest ranking female officers remaining in Northern Ireland are Barbara Gray and Pauline Shields, who hold two of 17 Chief Superintendent posts.
No women sit on the PSNI's top command team which is made up of seven chief officers.
Policing Board members have described the PSNI as being "male, pale and grey" and warned that immediate action must be taken to break up the "male-dominated network".
"It is certainly a boys club. We need to be looking at ways to ensure employment flexibility, training opportunities and encouragement for women to get higher up the ladder," said SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly.
"Unfortunately across the service it remains very male-dominated. This is something we need to work very hard at addressing because at the minute the PSNI as a whole, not just at the top, is a male-dominated network," Mrs Kelly added.
Less than 30% of PSNI officers are currently female. The number of women in the force is likely to decrease further due to a low success rate for female applicants to the PSNI. A recruitment campaign launched in 2013 saw just 67 women securing one of the 353 posts. The PSNI has changed its fitness test rules in a bid to increase the number of successful female candidates. However, Sinn Fein Policing Board member Catriona Ruane warned that while this might help secure some more females at entry level, it does not address the vacuum at the top.
"Unfortunately the PSNI is male, pale and grey. Women are greatly under-represented and we need action, not excuses as to why this is the case. Affirmative action is needed and I would be very supportive of fast-tracking women through to try and address this," said Ms Ruane.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said the PSNI recognised there was an under-representation of senior female officers within the ranks of the organisation and were working hard to address this issue.
"Female representation pre-Patten was 12% - today it is over 27%. Policing is a life-long career with many personal choices. Career progression takes time, however we are confident the balance of senior officers will be addressed over the coming years," Mr Harris added.
The Northern Ireland Policing Board said the issue was a priority for the board and added that the within the latest Policing Plan a target had been set "to monitor, report and develop measures to improve under-representation in the service in terms of gender and community background in PSNI departments".
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Concerns have been raised about the under-representation of females within the PSNI, particularly within top levels of the organisation. The departure of Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie last year has left a void at PSNI command level which currently has no female representation.