Police Federation

IWD: 'How can you be a police officer with a baby?'

Sue Honeywill, sergeant, National Board member and chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales' National Women's Group, marks International Women's Day by reflecting back on joining the service, how far its come and what more must be done.

8 March 2023


Back in 1997, I was a married young mum, aged 22. I was full of ambition, determination and wanted to make a difference - I felt I had a vocation in life, so applied to join the police.

My commitment to policing has not wavered, although, like others, there are days when I have questioned my choice.

When I applied to join the police, I didn’t tell my parents, rather I waited until I had been offered a place within Devon and Cornwall. I was so proud and thought they would be too, but I didn’t quite get the response I expected, instead I got: “What, a real police officer? How can you be? You have a baby”. This remains a topic of conversation to this day. In fact, I took my mum out for a cream tea at the weekend (jam first) and raised the subject, as I considered my blog for International Women’s Day. The response I got was, “we just did things differently in our day”.

She remains proud of what I have achieved, but we can’t hide that both society and policing has changed and continues to evolve.

I personally made choices that impacted on my career, but they were my choices. How lucky I feel to have had both. Life has had its challenges along the way, as has my professional career. As chair of the PFEW National Women’s Group, I remain resolute to advocate for the change that was, and is still, needed within policing. But the truth is, it’s not easy - cultures still exist that put barriers in the way.

The National Women’s Group will continue to help shape an environment that is gender aware, fully inclusive and encourages women to discuss female gender issues, and work towards removing barriers faced by our colleagues.

Equity does now exist to allow career progression and development within the service, and things are changing for the better, but still too slowly. In the year ending March 2022, 1,334 female officers were promoted, which accounted for 31.2 per cent of all officers promoted, which I’m sure is a lot higher in comparison to the levels when I first joined, and we see a record number of female chief constables.

However, the service can do more to support women through the promotion process. Currently officers have no protected learning time and are expected to study in their free time outside of work. This is disadvantageous for colleagues with caring responsibilities as it becomes an impossible juggling act, and we will continue to work with the College and chiefs to push for more allocated time for studying within working hours.

The last few years, we have seen a momentous leap forward, with misogyny within policing and issues being debated and discussed on a much wider platform, along with people openly talking about health matters that predominantly effect women.

It is amazing to see the uplift in female officers and this should be celebrated, but we need to continue to work on a culture change. I know we are on the right path, so let’s keep going.

Today is all about celebrating achievements and successes and I am proud to host the first Female Leadership within the Police Federation of England and Wales event today with our reps, as we celebrate our female leaders.

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