There are many memorable conversations from the 2019 Victoria Police International Women’s Day event in Melbourne, but one comment really resonated with me.
At the conclusion of the speeches a career policewoman said, “Thank you for acknowledging what women police members do; it doesn’t happen all that often. We appreciate it.”
Engaging Women was afforded a wonderful opportunity to keynote the March 8th, event at Rivers Edge Docklands.
Guests included female police members from across the state, Superintendent Therese Fitzgerald, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent.
Inspiring speaker Kemi Nekvapil lit up the stage with her powerful commentary on resilience and the importance of us all taking time out.
And I seized the chance to share ideas for more gender equality and diversity which, if achieved, will result in a society with less violence against women.
Victoria Police has come a long way since 1917 when women police ‘agents’ were first recruited.
Back then they couldn’t make an arrest, wear uniforms or carry guns and received much less pay than the males.
Madge Connor was the first of two policewomen selected in July 1917, on half the pay of a policeman, with no powers of arrest or rights to a pension. They did not wear uniforms. In 1922 she helped in undercover surveillance of a witness in the case against Colin Campbell Ross. Quickly accumulating commendations for her work, she was stationed at Russell Street and Fitzroy for most of her career.
As early as 1920 Connor led deputations of female police and watch-house matrons to the chief secretary, arguing for an increase in their salaries. She described the often distasteful duties they had to undertake for seventeen shillings and sixpence per week. Successful in obtaining a small increase, Connor made further representations in 1923.
In 1924, Because of a technicality in the police seniority system, she lost her place as ‘senior in service’, becoming ‘junior in number’. She continued to bring petty criminals, fortune-tellers and bookmakers before the courts until she was forced to retire on 14 November, 1929. Ineligible for a police pension, having not completed the necessary fifteen years as a sworn officer, Connor operated as a private detective.
Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography
Now, thanks to the leadership of many great officers, women are at the forefront of modern policing – in leadership positions, in cities and country locations and in specialist roles.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission independent review into sex discrimination and sexual harassment within the services revealed cultural change was urgently required.
The report was a wake-up call that identified 20 recommendations to be implemented for long-term and lasting cultural change.
Leadership training and a ‘keeping in touch’ program for members on maternity leave and long-term absences are some of the positive changes.
Senior leadership is talking to members and staff about career progression and overcoming obstacles and barriers. This has already resulted in females taking on more senior roles.
If the IWD event is anything to go by the heart for cultural change is definitely there, from the top brass down, let’s hope diversity is embraced by all.
Young women can’t be what they can’t see, it’s vital we see women in positions of authority stepping into the public domain.
Police woman are uniquely positioned to make the leap.