Despite the significant progress made by women in policing in recent decades, elite specialty units are still almost exclusively dominated by men. Our sample of 32 policewomen who defied the odds by earning positions on elite units (K9, SWAT, motors, and bomb) described overworking, acting like one of the guys, refraining from complaining, and having a tough skin and/or a good sense of humor as keys to their success. At the same time, they created symbolic boundaries between themselves and women who were not respected, who they described as not dedicated to their work, focused on having children or sleeping around, and behaving in ways that made respected women in the agency look bad. While viewed by participants as vital for survival in a hypermasculine space where they are severely underrepresented, their tactics for earning respect and negative depictions of other women could negate the impact of gender diversity on police reform and help to preserve the status quo.
Finding a way to survive
A critical examination of elite policewomen's accounts of their success
Todak, N., Boyd, S., Tolber, R., & Mitchell, R. J. (2022). Finding a way to survive: A critical examination of elite policewomen's accounts of their success. In Rethinking and Reforming American Policing (pp. 175-199)