Women in Policing – International Women’s Day

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, writes about the role of women in policing in celebration of International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March.

“On International Women’s Day, it is worth pointing out the progress that has been made in policing, both nationally and in South Yorkshire.

“Women were employed by the Metropolitan Police in London as early as 1883, though not as warranted officers. They were called ‘matrons’ and assisted on cases with women.

“The real change came, as in many other areas, when men went to the front in World War I and women began to do the work that had traditionally been the preserve of men.

“The first woman officer with powers of arrest was Edith Smith, a police constable in Grantham, in 1915. There was slow progress after that with women officers dealing at first only with cases where women were involved. Until 1999 they were also called WPCs, and many senior officers thought they were useful only as clerks or chauffeurs.

“I am pleased to say that the situation has now been transformed.

“In South Yorkshire, more than one third of the force is now female, and the percentage of women officers rises with each new intake. Two of the six members of the senior command team are women. And three of the four Chief Superintendents who are District Commanders – in Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield – are women.

“In my office, my Chief Executive, Chief Finance Officer and Communications and Engagement Manager are women, as are most of the staff.

“Although family and domestic responsibilities are more equally shared than they once were, many women still find that the burden of care tends to fall on them. It is still often the default assumption in many households.

“However, the effect of homeworking during the lockdowns and restrictions has meant that more men than ever have been exposed to the full spectrum of what it means to have as job and a family, and subtle changes may have been taking place as a result, perhaps as significant as those that happened during the World Wars. Time will tell.”