Police Federation

Blog: PFEW chooses to challenge gender inequality in policing

This International Women's Day, Sue Honeywill, Women’s Group vice-chair, highlights more needs to be done including around flexible working

8 March 2021


This International Women’s Day theme is ‘choose to challenge’ - a theme which underpins an element of the core work the Federation undertakes as we continue to fight gender equality issues our members are faced with.

To mark the day, Sue Honeywill, vice-chair of the PFEW Women’s Group, highlights the importance of discussing flexible working with line managers, and her personal experience of juggling being a mother, a Fed rep, and of course a Devon and Cornwall Police sergeant.


Twenty-four years ago, I joined a completely different police force to the one I serve today. Then there were PCs and WPCs, and although women made up half of the population only 15 per cent were police officers. Today, we still have quite a way to go before there is gender parity across the service, and the number the number of males is double – or even triple- that of women in some roles.

I know when you’re the minority you don’t want to make a fuss - you just want to fit in. But I also know we must make a difference and it’s not good enough to accept things can’t or won’t change for the better. This is why hundreds of dedicated Fed reps across the country do what they do - to make a real difference for members and ensure a fairer future.

For many years PFEW has been championing the need for better pay, terms and conditions for officers on maternity and adoption leave and I am pleased to say this has now become a reality. We also successfully fought for colleagues on maternity or adoption leave to be entitled to full pay for 26 weeks instead of 18 weeks. This was a real win for members and was a direct result of PFEW involvement on the Police Consultative Forum.

As a wife and a mother of five, juggling a job as a neighbourhood policing sergeant while supporting colleagues as a Fed rep and sitting on the National Women’s Group, I fully understand the importance of officers having the option to work flexibly. I strongly believe all officers should have the right to apply for this option, as it’s important officers are able to strike the right work-life balance.

I would say to any member: have those conversations with your line manager. Take this first step to discuss what you want to achieve with your career and if that could involve moving to a part time or flexible work pattern. You may fear this won’t be accepted, but the truth could be the complete opposite.

If there are issues, there are family support groups in many forces which are there to help and assist you with flexible working applications. Of course the Federation is there to support you every step of the way.

There is still a large cultural hurdle to jump at this stage and some forces are more progressive than others. But at the end of the day, it’s about having the right people in the right jobs with the right skills - no matter their sex.

It’s incumbent on us all to recognise equality, diversity and inclusion is everybody’s responsibility and there will be better police forces if we all accept this.

Every single officer in the country can influence change. PFEW elections will be held this summer and in the lead up to these, we will be running a number of seminars to raise awareness of the work undertaken by Fed reps and to encourage more female officers, especially younger in service colleagues, to consider standing for election. If any colleagues are interested, I would encourage them to get in contact with their local branch for more information.

I can only scratch the surface on the many issues around gender equality. What I know from experience though is that PFEW and our fantastic reps have the backs of female colleagues. But while we are in a much better place than when I began my own career, there is still much more to be done.


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