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More women in leadership positions means safer, more supportive and inclusive workplaces

March 8, 2024

On International Women’s Day, we must continue to build inclusive workplaces and recruit great police personnel, so that women see themselves better represented in police services.

Anne Brennan-Walsh is the Vice-President of the Belleville Police Association and a Civilian Director on the Police Association of Ontario’s Board of Directors.

International Women’s Day is a day to globally recognize and celebrate the achievements of women. Its beginnings can be traced back to activities of labour movements which supported growing calls from women for equal participation within society.

Today, women in labour movements continue to push for better representation, recognition, and more opportunities to be equally represented in decision-making positions.

It’s been more than one hundred years that we’ve been celebrating and recognizing International Women’s Day – but it’s still just as important. Why is that? Despite the great contributions from women, which we celebrate, equal representation and participation are still a long way away.

As a woman working in community safety in Canada, it’s sometimes discouraging to see the low number of women holding decision-making positions. It’s clear there is so much more we need to do.

Did you know there have only been roughly 13 women Chiefs of Police in all of Canada and eight in Ontario? There are approximately 160 police services in Canada and 44 in Ontario. That representation is very low. Although women’s rights have evolved since the Suffragist Movement, and ad campaigns told us we’ve “…come a long way baby”[1] – well, these stats would beg to differ.

But in the moments where it can be discouraging about the lack of women in positions of power, some moments inspire hope.

For me, those moments are in my colleagues in policing in Ontario. I am struck by power-house leaders like Leah Thomas, Ellie Bale, Erena Pesin, and Jaimi Bannon, Presidents of their respective police associations, association in-house lawyers like Leanne McClay, or legal eagles Nini Jones, Lauren Pearce, and Jodi Martin. I have come to know and respect these women for the perspectives and courage they bring to the table in policing in Ontario. They lead the way in supporting women, making room and space for newcomers and welcoming new members, never judging, always encouraging, building safe spaces to be open and honest, and taking the opportunity to boost women up instead of tripping them up.

These women, and others like them in different communities across the province, lead by example and are open and willing to talk about struggles in the workplace or with mental health. They are willing to take a phone call at any time of the day or night to explain the most rudimentary points to a newcomer. These women send a quick text when they know some words of encouragement or a thumbs up for a job well done are needed.

That’s leadership.

Consistently, these women in positions of leadership are showing up and reaching up to other women in police services – and showing the need and the impact of women in decision-making positions in community safety.

When I look around the room at Police Association of Ontario meetings, there are more women in decision-making positions now than there were in 1996 when I attended my first meeting. It is encouraging to see more women association Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Directors at the table, participating in the discussions that affect all women working in police services.

Is there still room for growth? Absolutely. I dream of a day when this doesn’t need to be recognized, when women are at the heads of police services and member associations and this is normal and inspiring, instead of just inspiring.

There are things stakeholders and governments can do to make it easier for women to see themselves represented in police services in the province. Initiatives that recruit and encourage women to join policing. Initiatives to modernize our police services so our workplaces are safer and more inclusive. Initiatives like the ones the women I’ve mentioned do on a regular basis to check in and to lift up.

How will we know when we’ve met the goals of representation for women in policing? When women’s achievements are always recognized. When women are regularly present in decision-making positions both on the service side and on the members association side. When pay equity and joint job reviews are no longer needed. That is when true equity will have been achieved.

Real leadership, in my opinion, is the ability to step out of who you are, focus on the needs of those around you and use your gifts for the greater good. Women leadership at its best, I have seen first-hand from the women in the PAO. These women, both past and present, have been and will continue to pave the way for others in policing – here in Ontario and across the country – to follow in their footsteps.

[1] Phillip Morris Agency 1968

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