Women are being held back by their own unconscious bias

18 May 2016

Women are not progressing in the police service because they are being held back by their own unconscious bias.

PC Sally Mulvaney from North Wales Police said while she has faced unconscious bias from her colleagues, it was her own unconscious bias that had hindered her progress at times. Unconscious bias is when a person makes judgments and assessments of people and situations. Biases are influenced by a person’s background, cultural environment and personal experiences.  PC Mulvaney said: “Unconscious bias affects how we see ourselves and that can be far more limiting and far more damaging. Glass ceilings do not exist. Unconscious bias is holding women back in the police.”

She recounted her own experience including initially believing she could not join the police due to her height and build. As a young officer she also doubted whether she could be an effective member of her force’s police support unit (PSU). Although some officers refused to work alongside her in the PSU, PC Mulvaney said their unconscious bias was much easier to confront than her own.

However, she added that women needed positive role models to "remind us that we can do it and we should give it a go". She said: “If you see someone with skills that would make them a good leader, support them and encourage them.

PC Mulvaney was speaking at a session on the future of women in policing at annual conference today. She was joined by Detective Sergeant Nita Jhanji-Garrod who was the first female Asian officer in Greater Manchester Police. The detective shared her experience of unconscious bias during her 29 years of service.

She said people's attitudes to her were heavily influenced by a lifetime of their own experiences. However, DS Nita Jhanji-Garrod said the service had changed considerably since she had joined and there were now far more women in specialist roles as well as senior ranks. She added: “Women will achieve and we will be allowed to reach our full potential."