The Professional Development Program (PDP) is a new leadership initiative consisting of a suite of specialized personalized development opportunities at the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. Leadership Inventory for Female Executives (LIFE), designed for aspiring and existing female executives in law enforcement, is the first program under the PDP series.
The need for professional development designed specifically for females in law enforcement aligns with the new strategic repositioning plan recently adopted by the Institute; the plan highlighted the paucity of such professional development and identified the need for women executive training.
Whereas the representation of women in law enforcement nationally ranges from 10 to 15 percent, only 1 to 5 percent serve as executives. Markedly, in municipal policing in Texas, only 2 percent of women occupy the highest position – that of Chief of Police.
The lack of women in leadership positions has been a worldwide trend, and the United Kingdom’s National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) developed programs to minimize barriers for women and minorities in career advancement in law enforcement. Their courses have been taught in England, Wales, Australia, Tanzania and Ghana. LEMIT entered into a Mutual Aid Agreement with NPIA, modified and adapted the program to fit our unique national lens.
LEMIT is the first and only institution in the United States to date that has entered into a cooperative agreement with NPIA. Ultimately LIFE will serve as a model of best practices for female professional development nationally, and LEMIT expects to set standards for this training not only in Texas, but nationwide.
"LIFE is a program that was designed to empower females in their own way," said Dr. Rita Watkins, Executive Director of LEMIT. "Understanding that there is substantial level of support for what and how female executives in law enforcement lead. I’m so pleased and proud at how hard the executives that participated in the inaugural group worked and rallied for each other. It is a great program."
LIFE was conceived to promote leadership development opportunities for women and its aim is to empower current and future female leaders with self-assessment and problem-solving tools to advance in their careers.
Research on women in policing underscores the pervasive presence of tokenism. Being a minority, in law enforcement women tend to be more visible, work harder than their male counterparts to succeed, and very often become isolated in their agencies. Moreover, women are more likely to suffer from family and work conflict than men do. Significantly, whereas men have historically built professional networks to access career gateways, women take less advantage of professional networking opportunities to advance.
"In spite of the fact that we have witnessed over four decades of equal rights and have made progress in recruiting females into policing careers, the representation of women in executive leadership roles in law enforcement remains alarmingly low," said Magdalena Denham, PDP Coordinator at LEMIT.
LIFE, designed specifically to address female perspectives in the law enforcement arena, focuses on strengthening core competencies leading to motivation, self-realization, conflict resolution, negotiations, mentoring, political astuteness, and professional networking. All combined will assist female members of law enforcement community to achieve peak performance and career advancement.
"We acknowledge there is a gender difference," Denham commented. "We are addressing that difference in the way we tailored LIFE program. Despite equality, there is a difference in nurturing the growth, professional and emotional development of male and female law enforcement executives. Discernibly, the behavioral double bind of adopting leadership style viewed either as too masculine (hence more aggressive) or too feminine (hence, too weak) makes it difficult for women to navigate the higher ranks. It is critical that they forge their own leadership model and negotiate their own leadership roles. They have to develop their own personal style."
The inaugural session of LIFE hosted at LEMIT, part of Sam Houston State University’s Criminal Justice Center, comprised of 19 delegates, including representatives from sheriff and constable offices, municipal police departments, game wardens, district attorney offices, school districts and college police.
The five-day program, led by Diane Lowe, a former senior officer and deputy head of the National Police Senior Leadership Training in the United Kingdom, provided participants with extensive self-assessment tools, including measurements of self efficacy, locus of control, leadership styles, and individual performance measures to help identify participants’ strengths and weaknesses. The event also offered a safe environment for open discussions on perceptions, life balance issues, work-family conflict, and individual and work values.
The session included key note speakers who shared their perspectives and experiences with participants. Dianna Marshall, Assistant Director of Public Safety at Rice University, discussed the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) and provided guidance on mentorship and reaching out to other professional networks. Dr. Margo L. Frasier, retired Travis County Sheriff and a female law enforcement executive trailblazer, discussed the opportunities and challenges that women face in law enforcement.
The LIFE program underwent rigorous internal evaluation which revealed that the course was in fact extremely empowering, boosted participants’ confidence and self-awareness, allowed them to find a voice, and launch them on the path to developing their unique leadership voice. The next session of LIFE is scheduled for April 2011.