Women on the force

Superintendent Amanda Pearson's rise up the ranks has not been a traditional one as it has been affected by her being mum to two boys. She tells Workingmums.co.uk how she did it and why she wants to encourage more women into the police force.

When Amanda Pearson went to a careers evening at school she said she wanted to contribute to the community by joining the police force. She was told she was too short. “I came away with a sense of injustice and a desire to prove them wrong.” She’s certainly done that. Now a superintendent in Thames Valley police force she has had a hugely varied and successful career. In fact, she now has responsibility for the area of Oxfordshire where her old school was and recently returned there to give a talk.

It was with no little pleasure that she took the opportunity to recount the story of that careers advice so long ago.

Pearson’s rise up the career ladder has not been a simple vertical climb. She says that as a woman and a mother she has had to accept that the way she climbs up the career ladder is not the conventional one. “You cannot have a fixed career plan as a woman,” she says. “You have to be flexible and grab any opportunities you see that suit you both personally and professionally. You can have an overall aspiration of where you want to be, but you have to be open to finding different routes to get there. You have to be very honest with yourself. It involves a lot of self reflection and self awareness.”

She has moved around the police force over her career, working abroad, in Hertfordshire, the City of London and at Thames Valley. Some of these moves have been prompted by personal reasons to make her professional life fit more easily with her family responsibilities. When she had her first son, who is now 10, she was working in Hertfordshire. She returned part time. “There was a bit of an intake of breath at the time when I asked to go back part time,” she said. “They were disappointed as they thought they were getting a full-time sergeant, but they were quite progressive – there was a male sergeant who applied for flexible working o the crime team and he got it.

They gave me the responsibility as a community sergeant for coming up with a system that met the needs of the community I was serving and my team. I think that is a good attitude. It gives the individual a role in providing a solution which is not detrimental to operational performance. The whole thing is a balance between the organisation, the team and the individual’s needs.”

After four months, she was asked to step up into an acting inspector role with responsibility for a greater area of Hertfordshire. It was a full-time role.

From Hertfordshire, she moved to the City of London for both promotional and personal reasons. It was a permanent post at the same rank she had held in Hertfordshire. Plus her husband was working there and the job meant she could move back to Oxfordshire where she had family nearby and commute. “It gave me wider options in terms of childcare and confidence that I could deal with childcare emergencies,” she says. Her son was two at the time. She had her second child while was working in the City of London. In fact, she went for a promotion board for the rank of chief inspector when she was eight months pregnant.

“The interviewers looked quite alarmed,” she said. “They asked if I wanted to sit down, but I said I preferred to stand. If I had sat down I wouldn’t have got up. I raised the issue of my pregnancy. I was fairly confident that I would get the rank. The police have a long-term investment in people. Taking six months out is not detrimental in the long term. My concern in raising the issue of my pregnancy was over succession planning.”

When she returned from maternity leave she had anticipated being given a role in strategic planning. In the event, she was assigned to working on anti-terrorism and public order issues. She dealt with public order issues across London, such as Notting Hill carnival and policing demonstrations and Arsenal matches.

She stood out from her team. Only eight out of 100 public order police were female at the time and she was a five foot three, slight female. “I did not fit the mould,” she says. She didn’t have any experience of public order policing either. “It was fine though because my role was about leadership skills, the ability to lead officers to get a safe resolution of issues. There’s a misconception about public order policing. It’s an intellectually challenging role. The risks and threats are constantly changing. You need to think of tactics that will work, about how you take into account human rights issues.”

She stayed in that role for four years. Her next role was still related to public order, but based as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It was a more strategic role looking at policing across London and taking the lead on the early stages of Olympic planning. “It was about building relationships, project managing, working with around 40 partners, including the Olympic organising committee, the five metropolitan police boroughs where the Games were taking place, and making sure all the mechanisms were in place for a safe event.”

She says it was a fascinating job and drew on her operational knowledge of how the plans would work practically. At this point she was offered a temporary promotion to superintendent.

She stayed in the job until a permanent superintendent role came up at Thames Valley three years ago. She had worked there before and it meant she could cut out the commute to work. Her husband has also moved to a post in the civil nuclear constabulary nearer home.

The Bill
She says her boys, now aged 10 and 6, think her job is very exciting, although they are aware of the realities. Her six year old goes to sleep with a notepad and pen next to the bed “in case he gets called out in the night like I do”. He is also keen on calling meetings at school. “He’s not very convinced by The Bill,” says Pearson. “He thinks it’s all about meetings.”

She maintains a work life balance through great organisational skills and a judicious use of Outlook and synchronising diaries. Her mum helps out and she uses holiday playschemes.

Pearson is keen to encourage more women into the police force and to help them up the career ladder. For the past year, she has been chair of the Thames Valley Women’s Network, which was set up around five years ago.

The Network works with the force, but considers itself “a critical friend” to the force, supporting members of staff who may face barriers to career progression. “It’s not just about networking. We identify opportunities for female staff,” she says. The Network has been working with Springboard which aims to support female career advancement. They campaigned to stop Springboard funding being cut, showing that it had an effective role in building female morale and retention.

It was involved in a development day where Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, spoke about national policing issues. There were also training sessions on issues like social media.

Pearson says having strong female role models in the force like Sara Thornton, Chief Constable of Thames Valley police, who is one of the contenders for the next chief of the Metropolitan Police force, “sends a strong message that there are serious career opportunities for women and that they can lead a very complex organisation and have a family”.

She says flexible working across the force is increasing, among men and women. Although 10 per cent have formal flexible working patterns, many more have informal arrangements.

She realises there is a lot more to do. “Outreach is really important,” she says. “We’ve made huge progress, but still only 25% of officers are women and there are still fewer women at the top. We need to be more creative in how we engage with women, such as attending events like Workingmums LIVE. If you just keep going to the same recruitment events you get the same pool of people, whether as volunteers or professionals.”

While she agrees that the image of the police still tends to be male, she says in community policing where teams are embedded in the community women officers are becoming much more visible.

If you are interested in a career in the police or in volunteering contact Amanda at [email protected].

Picture credit: Dundee Photographics and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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