Seeing is believing
It doesn’t occur that often, but every now and then, when we have our booth set up at a trade show, someone will exclaim, “when did two women become the face of Blue Line?”
It is never meant maliciously; in fact, it’s often uttered in surprise. Many of our readers are still under the impression Blue Line is owned by its award-winning founder, Morley Lymburner, but Annex Business Media is now running the publication. My account manager, Janice Eaton, and myself are the ones you have been seeing out and about representing the brand for the past year and a half.
Nevertheless, the comment still takes me off guard, and I almost feel as if I’m expected to justify my position. It’s something I think many can relate to; women have been feeling the pressure to go above and beyond to prove themselves in traditionally male-dominated industries for quite some time — in Canadian law enforcement’s case, since 1912, when Lurancy Harris and Minnie Miller of Vancouver and Annie Jackson of Edmonton became the first females to be hired as police officers.
Prove themselves these women did and we stand on their shoulders today. These are women like Gloria Bartley, the first black woman to serve as a police officer in Toronto, during a time when female officers had to resign once they had a baby; like Sandra Maxwell, the first woman to join the Saskatoon Police Service in 1977 and who was issued a purse to hold her service revolver; and like Cpl. Ann Noel, the first female to join the RCMP’s Underwater Recovery Team in 1989 —when management had been using changing facilities as a roadblock. The list of blazing champions goes on.
Seeing women in a variety of law enforcement roles is believing women can and should do these jobs. This philosophy was something I was reminded of during an insightful conversation at a conference a couple months ago with former Windsor Police officer Michael Akpata, now with IBM Canada.
“If my daughter were here, I’d be bringing her over to your booth to show her how women are heading up a national magazine, for example,” he said to me. That visibility, and the possibility it evokes, is crucial to the next generation, he added.
This is why it is so important to analyze police culture, its links to a constructed idea of masculinity and the walls (plus the glass ceilings) female-identified cadets/officers still run into today. Knowing where the barriers lie means we know where to focus our energies in order to help become more gender-balanced.
I know these conversations are uncomfortable; let’s get uncomfortable together in an open, safe space and discuss where to go from here. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about tokenism — this is about support and fairness. This is about meaningful change management.
The more we discuss the gendered barriers in the workplace, the closer we are to crumbling them. And that’s just what’s happening, as I saw while attending the Transit Special Constables First Women’s Symposium this summer and the Durham Regional Police First Women’s Symposium last October. Many other similar events are occurring across the country. Moreover, the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) Conference came to Canada for the first time this year.
I fully believe in the Sheryl Sandberg quote, which was shared at IAWP 2018 by a keynote speaker: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” We will get there in policing.
One last good news item I want to share with you before you delve into our “Women in Law Enforcement”-themed issue, is the CBC piece I’d bookmarked on Ottawa Police Service (OPS) approaching a local company called Thawrih about developing a hijab for its officers.
In August, Thawrih’s co-founder told the CBC the “tear-away hijab” prototype currently being tested is ready for action.
Goodbye to one more barrier.
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