Police Federation

Officers encouraged to challenge sexist comments away from professional standards departments

What more needs to be done to promote an environment where officers feel empowered to report inappropriate remarks?

18 May 2022


Conversations challenging sexist comments and language within policing, away from professional standard departments (PSD), need to become the norm to remove the stigma attached to speaking out. 

In an engaging panel discussion on misogyny at Annual Conference 2022, Sue Honeywill, Chair of PFEW National Women’s Group, highlighted the need to reflect on past and present behaviours and promote a culture shift. 

“We want to encourage conversations to take place, understand the views of members and promote an environment where we feel empowered to challenge and report,” she said. “We mustn’t shy away that misogyny exists, as it wouldn’t address the fundamental issue faced by women in policing. 

“Is challenging misogyny in policing possible? Yes – and we must see a change in culture.” 

Sam Hawkins, Secretary of the PFEW National Women’s Group, highlighted that sexism and misogyny “is still rife” across forces on a daily basis. 

A survey conducted in 2019 by Durham Police for the NPCC revealed 27.8 per cent of female police officers reported experiencing derogatory remarks about their gender in the past 12 months, while 34.5 per cent of female police officers reported experiencing sexist comments from someone in their force in the past 12 months. 

She explained a majority of the comments made are not due to a hatred towards women, but it is sexist language which can escalate into misogyny. 

There is currently a lot of unconscious bias in society, as well as the language we use every day such as “man up”, or “she runs like a girl” having misogynistic undertones – but there are unacceptable comments being made about women within the service. 

“The comments made and the language used needs to be addressed,” she continued. 

“I have 32 years police service and I see that we have come a long way and we know a majority of colleagues are not like that. 

“It’s not man bashing, we all need to reflect and feel empowered to speak out and challenge. It’s about inclusivity and us being kind and caring and accepting those differences. It’s also about reflecting, thinking about the language we use and making those small changes.” 

Hampshire Police Federation Chair Zoe Wakefield, who sits on the National Women’s Group, added: “We know 99 per cent of colleagues are not sexist, and we know people will say things with the best of intentions. But I would encourage people to stop and think about is would any of us want our daughter or other halves spoken to in that way?” 

Officers were also encouraged to challenge behaviour without reporting to PSD. 

Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, VAWG Co-ordinator at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “I have women coming forward to me saying they feel like they can call it out now and report it. Allegations are coming forward and real conversations are happening. 

“It’s not just about reporting to PSD, it is about supervisors having one-to-one conversations in a team and that being normal with no stigma attached. Some forces are now doing training around that.” 

Zoe added: “I would say go back to your respective stations and pass that education and knowledge on, have those little challenges. It shouldn’t go anywhere near the PSD world – it is subtle changes to in turn change that culture.” 

But change also needs comes from the top, according to Superintendent Manjit Atwal QPM, Head of Delivery, Violence Against Women and Girls, College of Policing,   

“I do think it starts with leadership and making staff feel supported. People need to admit there is a problem and that they feel confident going forward. We need to ensure leaders are given that training and understanding, as we have to understand that behaviour in the first place so we can then support our staff.” 

The Federation is currently working on a strategy to empower Fed reps to do even more to support victims and witnesses of misogynistic behaviour and feed into conversations with key stakeholders. The NPCC and College are also working with University College London to better understand the psychology behind misogyny. 

“It takes an awful long time to change culture, but if we all do our bit, we can make a change and make the organisation a better place.  

It happens in every single force, and we all need to be alive to it, aware of it, and challenge it,” concluded Sam. 


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