‘Be a Force for All’ Recruitment Campaign: the questions we should be asking….

April 8, 2020

In this article we focus on England and Wales. There are 43 police forces of varying size in England and Wales.  Each is commanded by a chief constable; the chief constables of Metropolitan London and of the square mile of the City of London are both known as ‘commissioners’. The chief constables report to both the Home Office and to local police authorities. Since the mid-1990s these police authorities have usually been made up of nine democratically-elected local councillors, three magistrates and five others (including the authority chair)who are appointed by a complex process involving the Home Office. The police forces receive half of their funding from central government and the other half from local taxation, principally the community charge.

The number of police officers in the UK hit a record low in 2019, the lowest since 2003. Decreasing public confidence in the capacity of the police to perform their duties effectively and efficiently mirrors a sharp decline in the number of officers since 2014 at a rate of 12.4%.[1]With a perception of resources at a low level and talk of knife crime dominating local news, there has been a new impetus on what can be done to recruit more police officers. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2019 announced his national campaign for the employment of 20,000 extra police officers over a period of years, which urges people to join the police and ‘Be a Force for all’.

With such an impetus coming from the Home Office in partnership with the police, it is an important time to reflect on the representation within the force to ensure the new recruitment helps bridge the gender gap. Of the 123,171 police officers in England and Wales at 31 March 2019, only 37,428 were female and only 5.7%[2]were female BME. Therefore, in order to be representative of the communities the force serves, continued attention needs to be given to what are the barriers or negative perceptions that stop women joining the force and why it may no longer be seen to be a desirable career option. Sustained attentiveness remains crucial during these times of mass recruitment, where there is strong political willingness to fill large quotas in a short time period of 4 years.

The importance of active campaigning when attempting to increase diversity within the force can be illustrated by the increase of female officers since the 1980s. Before this decade there was minimal representation, with only 7% of police officers as women.[3]What was instrumental to deciding the shift was the crisis of legitimacy that hit the force in 1980s. At that time there were questions raised on attitudes and actions of male police officers, citing of perceived abuses of power, lack of accountability and incidents of violence which damaged the force’s reputation. The emerging studies into the capacity of female police officers, apolitical willingness to deal with the problem, and encouraged through equality laws, resulted in shifts in perceptions and breakdown of barriers for female police officers to join the force, and progress within it.[4]

Currently none of the police forces have achieved 50:50 representation in their forces. In the Home Office Statistics in 2019 the Metropolitan Police Force (Met) for example averaged at 28.4% -8,800 female officers at the Met compared to over 22,000 male officers.[5]The Met has the highest number of police officers per person within a police area, and is distinguished for its high profile female leaders.  

The public presence of several top-ranking officers, such as Cressida Dick and Lucy D’Orsi, have engrained a narrative of the strength of diversity within the force, and the perception that numbers might be lower for female officers outside the capital. However,this does not seem to be the case. See Table 6 under Relevant Statistics below.

It is worth taking a look at the Met Police to understand their thinking and some of the measures they are undertaking to improve the recruitment of women. Other forces like West Yorkshire are also actively looking at recruitment campaigns to build forces representative of their local communities.  

Lucy D'Orsi, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Met Police, joined us last year for our SecurityWomen Conference at the Guildhall in London. Lucy is responsible for Royalty and Special Protection, Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection, Aviation, Policing and Protective Security Operations which includes counter terrorism. We know from our own day to day experience of life Lucy works in a very challenging environment and has a huge responsibility to keep people safe.

Lucy spoke about the need to recognise the women in policing today and their diversity, and sharing and making this more visible across London and other law enforcement agencies. Lucy shared the work on the 'Strong Campaign' - You can be the Next First - reaching out to women of all ages and at varying stages in their career to consider the police as a career pathway.  As a result of the campaign applications from women went up by 18%. Lucy acknowledged that there was still a significant journey ahead for women to make up 50% of the workforce– “the contribution and different thinking women bring to security is invaluable”.

Lucy reflected on how it might look in the Met Police given the number of women in very senior positions at Commander and above level. However, women in the Met Police struggle at the lower levels to move into Chief Inspector and Superintendent roles. More needs to be done to support women to balance childcare or indeed other caring responsibilities with carrying out senior roles. The working environment has to be flexible including job share and part time working and a better maternity offer in keeping with the broader commercial market. The attrition rate in the Met Police after the second child is very high. The working environment needs to be supportive through coaching and mentoring to enable women to feel confident to apply for senior roles and not be discouraged because of fear of failure. In the Met Police they are looking at ways of supplementing the traditional promotion arrangements with a fast track system to speed up the process for talented people including women.  Lucy also reinforced the importance of role models. Young aspiring women police officers need to be able to look up and see women performing senior/leadership roles and know that they too can achieve promotion to these positions.

There was also an interesting discussion around the use of media for recruiting and the impact of TV dramas,like The Bodyguard, can have. During the showing of the drama applications from women actually increased. Lucy believed that the opportunity to harness recruitment marketing with TV drama should be embraced but to recognise that the dramas usually have an edge and do not always represent reality in the police service. There is a need for a blended approach, drama alongside documentaries showing how it really is. The Met police undertook a survey of how women wanted to receive Information about the police. The overriding response was from celebrities or social media. It is accepted that more work must be done in this space to engage with potential women police officers.

To summarise Lucy's priorities for change to improve the presentation of women: 

Ø  Supporting women

Ø  Inspiring women

Ø  Allowing women to look and see legitimacy in leadership

Ø  Bring policing to life and blended marketing

Ø  Fast track talented people

Use this link: https://app.securitywomen.org to hear more of the conference.


In 2019 the lag behind the national average was noticed and became the spur behind the ‘Strong’ campaign Lucy spoke about above.  A Met recruitment drive specifically aimed at women, timed with the introduction of certain measures to encourage women to join. It featured ‘strong’ current and past role models, such as PC Sislin Fay Allen and Superintendent Sofia Stanley, engaging with different perceptions of what 'strong' women could mean in regards to the force. As the first female officer and commander of the Met’s Women Patrol from 1919 to 1922, Superintendent Sofia Stanley marked a momentous occasion for women and the police force. Only two years prior, a Daily Express reporter asked a Scotland Yard official if there was any possibility of women being employed as police constables. The reply was “No, not even if the war lasts 50 years.”[6]The direction of the force progressed once again in 1968, when PC Fay Allen became the first black female police officer in the Met and UK. The Met received hate mail for her posting, and was badgered by reporters due to her trailblazing appointment, but the change of direction had begun. Alongside publicising these historic moments, Human Resources initiatives were also promoted to raise awareness of pathways into the police force.                                                    

‘Be a force for all’ campaign is one of the most radical ones yet, with a huge level of funding promised alongside a record number of recruitments planned to fill the decrease of 20,000 officers since 2010.[7]Yet with such unprecedented dedication to new recruitment to the police force,there has been new scrutiny on the representation within the police force. The low level of police officers who self-identify as BME including women is concerning. Currently representation stands at 7%.  

This figure of BME representation mirrors the situation female police officers faced in 1977, before there was the big push to change the police force. It was through active campaign efforts, echoed by acknowledgement of barriers faced in recruitment, retention and progression, that resulted in the shift. Therefore, as this ‘Be a Force for All’ campaign commences, similar attitudes need to be engrained to ensure the positive transformation within the force where the level of diversity continues to increase, and not roll back.   (See relevant statistics at the foot of this article)

To end, please take a look at some of the examples of ongoing initiatives aiming to make a difference:

Accompanying the ‘Be a Force for All’ campaign is West Yorkshire Police’s own ‘Unlock your potential’ positive action recruitment drive. Below Chief Inspector Tanya Wilkins, PC Fiz Ahmed and PC Gemma Davis tell their stories of why they joined the police and are positive roles models for all women to consider a career in the police service.

A new website has been set up for the recruitment of 20.000 new police officers - A Force for All Campaign. We are lobbying for the recruitment process to attract women to join the force. Listen to the stories below of women who have already joined and are inspiring role models.

PC Fiz Ahmed tells her story of how she came to join the police, her personal journey and experience including the challenges, public perceptions culture and camaraderie of organisations.

Key learning point:  PC Fiz Ahmed is a positive role model for young women who have a dream to be in the police service. For those who haven't thought about a career in the police Fiz is more than likely to persuade you of the potential and opportunities available and why it is such an important job to do.    

Chief Inspector Tanya Wilkins dreamt of being a police officer from the age of 12 years. Here she talks about the variety of work, support and personal development and progression.

Key learning point: Chief Inspector Tanya Wilkins emphasises the importance of coaching and mentoring for personal development and promotion. Tanya has undertaken a wide range of roles in building her career. Another formidable role model.

PC Gemma Davis - see here another young women who tells of her dream to join the police and why being able to see role models is important. She also speaks about the importance of the police service being representative of local communities to be able to engage and provide help and support within communities. Breaking down public perceptions and barriers to join the police force is an absolute prerequisite. Chief Inspector Tanya Wilkins reflects on when she first joined the West Yorkshire police men outnumbered women - she was one of 3 women in a team of 30 men. Now the representation has changed significantly and response and neighbourhood teams are 60/40 - 50/50 across the force.

Key learning point: PC Gemma Davis and Chief Inspector Tanya Wilkens emphasise the importance of breaking down barriers and changing perceptions to enact change.


SecurityWomen learning points:

Þ  SecurityWomen suggests further study into exactly what are the barriers or negative perceptions to joining the force and why it might not be seen as a desirable career option for potential female police officers in all their diversity. 

Þ  In addition, there is a need to understand the slow decrease over the past decade in total number of women and BME police officers. This would be through analysing a diversity breakdown and people’s given reasons. A research study of the culture and perception of working for the police service, and whether it is beneficial, attractive or long term for both women and BME police officers, should be instigated.  

Þ  SecurityWomen recommends further analysis into parental care, use of flexible hours, mothers returning to work in consideration as to whether the police service is an equal, attractive employer for both male and female, as well as BME police officers.

Þ  The 'Be a Force for All' campaign should experience continued pressure for accountability and transparency in regard to statistical breakdown of gender and ethnicity. During time of mass recruitment, SecurityWomen expresses the need to ensure that the increase in diversity levels in the force becomes neither deprioritised, nor plateaus.

Þ  Finally, the novelty of the 'Strong' campaign and HR initiatives of the Met police infringes the ability to judge whether these have been successful in increasing female enrolment into the force. It is recommended there should be monitoring and evaluation of the statistics in the months and years to come.



This chart visualises the gradual decrease in total number of police officers in the UK since 2010, and explains the impetus behind the recent campaign for the recruitment of more police officers to the service.

This graph explores the growing crack between the recruitment of female and male BME police officers.


This chart offers a breakdown of female and ethnic minority police officers on the force since 2007. It shows there has been a gradual increase over time on both themes,however also the remaining gap from national representation in comparison to population statistics.

 Location                     Male Police    Female Police    Total          % of Female

                                  Officers            Officers                             Police Officers

Thames Valley              2798                1444                  4242                   34%

London, City of            571                   177                    748                     31%

Metropolitan                22240               8823                31063                 28.4%

Norfolk                         1146                  519                  1665                   31.7%

Northumbria                 2146                  983                  3129                   31.4%

South Wales                 2063                 967                  3030                   31.9%

West Midlands              4488                2153                  6641                   32.4%


Since 2010 there has been a gradual decrease in the number of police officers in the UK. However, in the decline in numbers working for the force, the diversity statistics have seen gradual increase in representation of Female and BME. It is therefore possible to suggest that the percentage of women and of ethnic minority could have been offset or increased by the number of officers leaving the force. On the other hand, the increase has been dramatically higher on the side of male BME police officers in comparison to female BME police officers. This highlights a worrying trend in regard to joining the force, as the barriers or negative perceptions to joining the service for female police officers translate to those from BME in addition to gender.

Finally as a general observation, representation of women in the Met Police force is slightly lower than the rest of the country albeit they are the largest of the forces.  However with high profile female officers leading the force currently, and the effects of the 'Strong' campaign, it is likely the diversity profile will change in the coming years.

[1] Parliament. House of Commons Library (2019), Police Service Strength. (00634)

[2] Gov.uk. Ethnicity facts and figures (2019) Police workforce. Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/police-workforce/latest#by-ethnicity-and-gender-over-time-police-officers

[3] Martin Kettle (2017). ‘Cressida Dick’s appointment is an advance for equality – even more so for policing’, The Guardian,24th February. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/24/cressida-dick-policing-female-head-metropolitan-police-women-better-officers (Accessed: 16th September 2019)

[4] Martin Kettle (2017)

[5] Gov.uk. National Statistics (2019), Police workforce open data tables. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/police-workforce-open-data-tables (Accessed: 16th September 2019)

[6] News.met.police.uk (2018). ‘Celebrating 100 years of female officers in the Met.’ Metropolitan Police News, 22nd November. Available at: http://news.met.police.uk/news/celebrating-100-years-of-female-officers-in-the-met-333878

[7] Parliament. Commons (00634)

See the latest events

View events