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From Research to Reality: Recruiting More Women Into the Policing Profession

Women Represent Only 12 Percent of Sworn Officers and 3 Percent of Police Leadership

Women are severely underrepresented in law enforcement. Although women account for roughly half of the U.S. population and 58% of the American civilian labor force, only 12% of police officers are women. The number of policewomen has increased only 2% since 2000; currently, 97% of police chiefs are men.

Social science research indicates that increasing the number of women in law enforcement would not only help police departments better reflect the communities they serve but also increase police legitimacy and community trust. Additionally, policewomen improve department performance; research has shown that they have higher reporting and clearance rates for rape cases and fewer instances of use of force when policing.

To encourage the much-needed change of improving gender diversity in policing, the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law, in partnership with police professional organizations such as the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and the National Policing Institute, set an ambitious goal through the 30x30 Initiative: by 2030, 30% of police recruits will be women.

For agencies to be successful in increasing their numbers of women officers, they need evidence-based guidance on what specific actions they should take. To meet this need, RTI International and the National Policing Institute are partnering with NAWLEE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) to identify barriers to recruitment and develop empirically-tested strategies to increase the number of women officers in a study funded by the National Institute of Justice.

Evidence-Based Solutions to Recruit and Retain Policewomen

Recruiting anyone into policing right now, especially women, is difficult. Preliminary research shows that recruitment materials are often hypermasculine and do not reflect the true nature of police officers’ work. Agencies that improved their recruitment materials noticed a positive change in recruitment outcomes, as did agencies that had leaders who were vocal about recruiting more women.

Once policewomen are hired, agencies must ensure that the workplace culture supports the retention of women. Policing has historically offered a lack of flexibility, creating challenges for women who want to raise a family and also want a career in policing. Additionally, agencies do not often provide infrastructure for women’s needs, including safe spaces to pump for nursing mothers, and uniforms that are tailored to women. A shocking 93% of policewomen experience harassment during their careers, and agencies typically do not have effective protocols to manage workplace harassment.

Beyond Gender Parity: Female Police Officers Lead to Improved Public Safety

This is not just a gender parity issue—it is a public safety issue. Research shows that increasing the number of women police officers leads to greater public safety outcomes. Additionally, cultural changes to recruit and retain more women would lead to improved workplace culture for all police officers, not just women.

RTI researchers interviewed policewomen for this project, and one officer said, “I want to improve the relationship between the community and the agency. I’ve been working to repair those relationships since I joined.”

If increasing the number of women in law enforcement is important to you, we encourage you to

  • Let us know what your agency is doing to recruit and retain women
  • Connect with the 30x30 Initiative and commit to their pledge
  • Be an advocate for policewomen by addressing not only recruitment and retention barriers but also other challenges
  • Engage agency leadership about the benefits of a representative department.
A lighted, red "On Air" sign on a black background.
A lighted, red "On Air" sign on a black background.


The Just Science podcast sat down with RTI's Dr. Jennifer Rineer and Maureen McGough, Chief of Staff at the Policing Project at NYU Law and the co-founder of the 30×30 Initiative, to discuss efforts to recruit more women in policing.

Policing Research at RTI

Our experts conduct extensive policing research, evaluation, and technical assistance.

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