Diversity and inclusion in Australian policing : Where are we at and where should we go?

Diversity and inclusion in Australian policing : Where are we at and where should we go?

Public Safety Leadership: Research Focus

Author Dr Abby McLeod

While the promotion of women in policing has long been on the international agenda, in the Australian context a significant increase in attention to women in policing has occurred in recent years, framed largely in terms of the business benefits commonly associated with organisational diversity. Notably, major independent reviews of organisational culture and sex discrimination have been commissioned by Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and South Australia Police, and a number of jurisdictions have announced 50/50 male-female recruitment targets. These initiatives have been simultaneously welcomed and resisted by both men and women (sworn and unsworn), raising a range of questions about how best to promote gender equality in our nation’s policing institutions.

The ongoing existence of gender hostility in policing organisations validates the current focus on women in policing. Women are underrepresented in policing, particularly in senior management, and they suffer overt discrimination and higher than average rates of sexual harassment (when compared to the general community) (Elizabeth Broderick and Co., 2016; VEOHRC, 2015). This makes it difficult for them to contribute their diverse talents and skills, which ultimately disadvantages the contemporary organisation striving to innovate and operate in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment.

Against this backdrop, there is growing recognition that gender diversity alone is not the only way to bring about the increased variety in thinking associated with “operational effectiveness” that our organisations are seeking. As such while targets and other measures of improved demographic diversity continue to be important, Australian policing organisations are increasingly aware that it is inclusion rather than diversity which will bring about the positive outcomes hoped for, such as increased creativity and innovation, improved productivity and increased employee satisfaction (see for example McLeod and Herrington, 2017; Workman-Stark, 2017). Reflecting this shift and to explore these complexities, and capture the current Australian state of play, in February 2017 the Australian Institute of Police Management (AIPM) hosted a workshop, Building Inclusive Police Organisations. Here we draw together discussions that occurred on the day, the challenges faced by organisations and their staff, and signpost some future directions for the profession. 

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