Chris Marshall: Police must address shortage of senior women

Gormley did not try to hide the scale of Police Scotlands representation problem. Picture: John Devlin

Gormley did not try to hide the scale of Police Scotlands representation problem. Picture: John Devlin

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When the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers voted not to allow female members last month, the decision lost Muirfield the chance of staging the Open Championship and won rightful condemnation from around the world.

Among those voicing their displeasure was First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who called the decision “indefensible”.

Ms Sturgeon was right to offer criticism, but when she said Scotland had “women leaders in every walk of life” she perhaps hadn’t considered the national police force.

There are indeed women in senior roles at Police Scotland, most notably Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick. But one or two individuals aside, the representation of women in senior roles within the force remains woeful.

Just as you’re more likely to find a retired male police officer in the clubhouse bar of your local golf course, you’re also far more likely to find men in senior policing jobs.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley was asked about the issue last week while giving evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee in Westminster.

To his credit, Mr Gormley did not try to hide the scale of Police Scotland’s representation problem.

Scotland’s most senior police officer, who took up his post in December, admitted he was “worried”.

Referring not just to women but also the number of officers from ethnic minorities, Mr Gormley said Police Scotland was facing “diversity challenges”.

He revealed that not one woman had applied for two assistant chief constable positions currently held by female officers, both of whom are retiring.

Mr Gormley said his force faced a “significant challenge” not in the recruitment of women, but in their progression through the ranks.

To be fair to Police Scotland, this is an issue for society as a whole, not just policing.

But figures for overall female representation in the police do not make for happy reading.

While things are moving in the right direction, only around one in four Scottish police officers is a woman.

Women make up around a fifth of all promoted posts, up from just 8 per cent around a decade ago.

Clearly, many young women will take time away from their careers to have children shortly after joining the force.

But this happens in every profession and does not stop women reaching the top in other walks of life.

The Scottish Women’s Development Forum (SWDF), a police staff association, has previously claimed the creation of Police Scotland made it even more difficult by removing “mobility protection” – which under the previous eight forces limited relocation within each region.

However, Police Scotland denied mobility protection had been removed.

Whatever the reason, large numbers of women are not coming through strategic command courses, a prerequisite of a career in police leadership.

Police Scotland clearly has its work cut out to try and change things.

A year on from celebrating 100 years of women in Scottish policing, there are signs of progress.

But when it comes to the top jobs, that progress is glacial and perhaps even receding.

Mr Gormley is right to be worried.

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