The Persistent 12% Challenge

In our previous article, we explored the underrepresentation of women in policing and why it is important for law enforcement leaders to address this shortfall. The article looked at what groups like the 30×30 Initiative are doing to increase the number of women as sworn officers. Today’s article takes a closer look at the group’s methodology and efforts to improve the representation of women in the profession.

An often-cited statistic shows that, while women make up more than half of the population, they represent fewer than 12% of sworn officers in the United States. When examining the number of women in law enforcement leadership roles, that figure shrinks to a paltry 3% — a number that is almost universally seen as a significant problem. While research dating back to the 1970s has documented the issue and made a strong argument for increasing the representation of women in law enforcement, these figures have remained effectively stagnant in most departments in the decades since.

representation in policingThere is an increased urgency among law enforcement leaders that recruiting and retaining women officers matters, with efforts to do so showing demonstrably positive outcomes for both law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Guided in part by these facts, Chief Ivonne Roman (ret.) of the Newark Police Department and Maureen McGough of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) led a national research summit on women in policing in 2018 with more than 100 women representing researchers, law enforcement leadership, and professional organizations in attendance. The work from the meeting would be instrumental in propelling research and strategy on women in policing through the present day.

The 30×30 Initiative is one such effort guided by that summit. The group’s name is directly tied to its mission: to increase the representation of women in policing from 12% to 30% by 2030. Partnered with the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law and the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, the 30×30 Initiative seeks to understand the issue by gathering vital data into the conditions affecting the number of women in law enforcement and using that data to make actionable, real-world recommendations for policy shifts and strategic plans to help improve these numbers. The organization uses a pledge already signed by hundreds of agencies large and small across the country to gather data and secure a long-term commitment to improving the number of women in law enforcement.

The 30×30 Pledge

Understanding that agencies have differing capacities, resources, and needs, the 30×30 Pledge that agencies and their leaders commit to is more akin to a “flexible framework” than a rigid list of actions and policies that require agencies’ strict compliance. Ideally, this flexibility is built into the pledge to give agencies the latitude to base their strategic decisions on evidence and analysis unique to their departments. The pledge itself is made of two primary phases that encompass both assessment actions and decision-making based on that analysis of the accrued data.

Crucially these are low- to no-cost actions that can be taken to improve the representation of women across ranks in law enforcement and improve their experience while on the job. The pledge first asks that departments commit to understanding gender equity, by unpacking the factors driving disparities, and developing plans to implement strategies to advance women in policing.

The first phase of the pledge comprises essential data gathering and implementing policies related to the hiring and retention of women in the department. The data gathering is relatively straightforward: collecting the number of sworn officers in an agency as well as demographic information across rank and assignment categories. It also requires that departments formally make hiring, retaining, and promoting women a strategic priority and affirm a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory practices or harassment in the workplace. Going a step further, departments are asked to commit to providing adequate scheduling accommodation and physical space for nursing mothers. The last component of this first phase of the pledge addresses the equipment and gear issued by departments – specifically, that equipment is appropriate to the fit and proportions of women.

Translating Data into Action

The second reporting phase takes a deeper dive into diagnostic data and demographics, asking agencies to more rigorously classify and report their demographic data – including gender, race/ethnicity, and age – where possible. This phase of the pledge splits the data into four “lanes,” looking into hiring, promotion, retention and culture, and recruitment.

Generally speaking, the data gathering and reporting exercises focus on creating greater clarity on which sworn officers are applying for promotions, seeking voluntary training, leaving the agency, and generating data to assess the efficacy of recruitment programs. Looking at this in a larger context, this demographic and department-level information intersects with many of the research priorities outlined in the NIJ’s 2017-2022 Strategic Research Plan for policing.

In the long term, this data will help inform theory and research questions about policing but, in the near term, it is beneficial in providing the basis for best-practice recommendations. Taking things a step beyond data collections and analysis, a critical component of the 30×30 Pledge is translating these data-driven insights into an action plan. The same four lanes (hiring, promotion, retention and culture, and recruitment) categorize the actions areas.

The framework consists of essential, strongly recommended, and recommended areas of action. Essential action areas more often involve using aggregated data to recognize where biases exist and taking the necessary steps to address those biases with measures like ensuring voluntary training and promotion notifications are posted internally and that officers are up to date with bias and harassment training. Generally, steps both of the “recommended” categories seek to unpack the issues further, delving into structural issues that create barriers to women in policing.

Moving Forward with Intersectionality

While the 30×30 Initiative focuses on issues affecting women in law enforcement, the group makes a distinct nod towards intersectionality when describing their background and mission. Intersectionality is an analytical framework originating from the field of sociology that “acknowledges the ways in which people’s multiple identities—race and ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and more—magnify or transform their exposure to discrimination.” People at different intersections of these elements of identity have their experiences shaped in different ways.

In a practical sense, this means that the data and insights generated by the 30×30 Initiative can serve as a blueprint for other such efforts. The organization’s work is not siloed and geared only towards improving conditions for women but, in effect, can be used to benefit all officers who have struggled to find representation in policing. Using intersectionality as a bedrock of the 30×30 Initiative’s methodology means that the group’s work will be transferrable to other areas of research into law enforcement equity and efforts to create real-world strategies to help improve representation in law enforcement.