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Female police officers in Ireland: challenges experienced in balancing domestic care responsibilities with work commitments and their implications for career advancement

Maureen O’Hara*


This paper resulted from a study which gave voice to female police1 officers who work full-time and try to combine this with their domestic caring responsibilities by focusing on their perceptions of work, their domestic caring responsibilities and their aspirations for career advancement. It was based on ten semi-structured interviews, with officers who work in urban and rural police stations in the North West of Ireland. Results established inequality in the top echelons of the Garda Síochána; through self-exclusion; officers experienced promotional disadvantage as well as disadvantage with regard to how domestic responsibilities were managed. Findings suggest a need for change both in orginanizational and work policies for female police in Ireland.This paper discusses caring responsibilities and the effects of same on female officers.
Keywords: female, police, caring, policy, officers.


This article is a result of research study concerning female officers, ascertaining if their gender affects them in their work and in their dealings with the public, also investigating their career aspirations for the future. Specific emphasis was placed on the challenges and difficulties that they experienced when combining work with their domestic caring responsibilities. The fundamental purpose of the research was to give female officers a voice by expressing their views regarding their work life balance and how they combined it with their caring roles and if this impacted on their chances of promotion.

While Ireland has been experiencing decreases in employment, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures for Quarter One: June 16th (2011) shows there were 842.100 females employed in the workforce. The number of employed persons in the first quarter of 2011 was 1,804,200, an annual decrease of 53,400 or 2.9%. This compares with an annual decrease of 3.4% in the previous quarter and a decrease of 5.5% in the year to Q1 2010. There was an annual decrease of 34,200 or 3.4% in the number of men in employment, while the number of women in employment decreased by 19,300 or 2.2%. The gap between male and female employment has now fallen to 120,000 or 14.3% (CSO, 2011).

The study highlighted the extent to which female officers went to as professionals, in order to carry out their duties as guardians of the peace. There are many work contexts where men have outnumbered women. The Garda Síochána is arguably one of the more traditionally male dominated environments that women have entered into as employees. Although more women have joined the force, there is a still a lack of female progression in Garda Síochána; with relatively few women in the upper echelons of the organisation, as depicted in table 1:

Table 1. Garda statistics-November 2008-Source Mulloy (2009)





Deputy Commissioner


Assistant Commissioner


Assistant Commissioner


Chief Superintendent


Chief Superintendent






















It can be argued that certain types of workplace are male defined and inhospitable to women, the police force is credited as being one. Because of their gender, women around the world have fought hard to be accepted as female officers in the police. For example in Britain, full powers were not granted to female officers until 1934 after long and various inquiries and commissions (Carrier 1988). The Assessment of the Police Service in the UK (2010) found that the police service has made substantial progress in the recruitment, representation and progression of female officers over the last 10 years. However, female recruitment varied hugely between forces, from 25% to 58% of new recruits in 2009. Women remain underrepresented in the higher ranks (in part a legacy of historical recruitment patterns), and the numbers of BME women officers were significantly lower than the wider BME population. Although women have made considerable headway in progression over the last ten years, data did suggest that women were facing barriers in gaining promotion to sergeant, and that warranted further investigation. The data also highlighted discrepancies in female representation in specialist roles such as firearms, carrying with it possible implications for lateral and upwards progression (Assessment of the Police Service in the UK, 2010).

In the USA, Schulz (1995) notes that pioneering policewomen attached themselves to social work organisations and not those of law enforcement and gained support from the growing women’s clubs (Schulz, 1995). Similarly, in Australia, Prenzler (1997) asserts that only a long and determined drive by women’s organisations plus intervention of the State’s first woman MP finally brought women into policing in Queensland.

Irish and International data shows that women’s progression in various professions is slow. In discussing gender inequality in the law profession in Ireland, Bacik and Drew (2006, p. 139) states ‘while women are entering legal studies in increasing numbers, they remain concentrated at the lower levels of practice’. Similarly, in academia, (Acker, 2008; Bailyn, 2008; Calas 2008 and Czarniawska & Devon 2008) all emphasis how foreign women professors overcame discrimination in achieving their goals while being strongly critiqued for the way they handled motherhood. Lynch and Lodge (2002) acknowledge that while inequalities may be reproduced in the education site they are also reproduced and generated in the fields of economic, socio-cultural and political relations outside of schools in Ireland. In addition, the Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics in Ireland (2011) acknowledges that the 31st Dáil Éireann comprises 25 women and 145 men, therefore women only occupy 15% of the total seats. Resulting from reviews of the aforementioned research together with the following data, the study utilised both a standpoint and a liberal feminist theoretical framework to examine the three core research questions which emanated from the research:

Core Research QuestionsToC

Theoretical FrameworkToC

In agreement with Letherby (2003, p.3) the researcher agrees that ‘feminists are primarily concerned with understanding why inequalities between men and women exist, as well as the reasons for the overall subordination of women’. Moreover, ‘feminist theory is concerned with political and intellectual practices with an ultimate goal to affect some form of change’ (Letherby, 2003, p. 62). ‘Feminist standpoint theory explores the difficulties of establishing relationships between knowledge and power without abandoning the hope of telling better stories about gendered lives’ (Ramazanoglu and Holland, 200, p.63). In addition, liberal feminism looks at formal legal equality and women’s equality and empowerment in the public sphere (Ramazanoglu and Holland, 2006). Liberal feminists examine how patriarchy operates as a system with the state having certain obligations (Bryston, 2003). So why have women not advanced in the police profession?

Some key Reasons why women have not advanced in the police profession. ToC

Mitchell (1987) in her excellent portrayal of Women and Equality highlights the fact that in no democratic country in the world do women have equal rights with men. In addition, in their international descriptive gender comparative study on policing, Brown and Heidensohn (2001) conducted 42 interviews involving 56 individuals from 24 countries and found that organisational culture was entrenched and supported in the police with women facing a huge variety of problems including bullying and harassment from their male colleagues. O’Connor (2005) depicts similar complaints in her excellent memoir detailing her ten years spent as a female garda before retiring from the force in Ireland. On another note, in Ireland, the equal opportunities in state-sponsored organisations report (1999) showed that during the 1990’s there was little progress in achieving equal opportunities in the organisations (Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform). Thus, it could be argued that women’s inequality is patricianly constructed in and through social discourse at the public level, for example, through politics and the media.

The liberal feminist Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique and established the National Organisation for Women (NOW). She rejected the idea of women being happy in ‘concentration camps’ i.e. homes where their only outlook was keeping their husband happy and caring for the children. The NOW organisation used the law and political processes to challenge gender ideology by demanding changes in education and in the media (Bryson, 2003, p.143). The results of these challenges today are anti-discrimination laws, equal pay, challenging traditional gender stereotypes, maternity leave, and parental leave and highlighting childcare issues. Furthermore, for a variety of reasons women play caring roles in the private sphere and this has implications for their role in the public sphere thus influencing their chances of career advancement.

For example, work by Lynch, (2007) Badgett and Folbre, (1999) and Folbre (2004) discusses the nature of love labouring and explores how it can be distinguished from other forms of care work. It provides three-fold taxonomy for analyzing other-centered work, distinguishing between work required to maintain primary care relations (love labour), secondary care relations (general care work) and tertiary care relations (solidarity work).

Lynch (2007) asserts that primary care relations are not sustainable over time without love labour; that the realization of love, as opposed to the declaration of love, requires work. Badgett and Folbre (1999) and Folbre (2004) concur with Lynch (2007, p. 56) that ‘love labour time is not infinitely condensable; you cannot do it in less and less time’ because there is mutuality, commitment, trust and responsibility at the heart of love labouring that makes it distinct from general care work and solidarity work. Hence, it is not possible to commodify the feelings, intentions and commitments of love labourers to supply them on a paid basis. Within this context, this study examined the views of female officers, which were concerned with work, caring responsibilities and career advancement. The researcher investigated and explored the following factors, including work life balance impinging on women’s progression at work.

Work Life BalanceToC

‘Despite changes in the status of and interactions between women and men at work, power relations between men and women in management remain unequal, and especially so at high levels’. Furthermore, the structures and social processes of organizations frequently continue to emanate from male-based practices, prerogatives and privileges. Employers often use human capital theory and de-contextualized assessments of ‘competence’ to explain the different achievements of women and men managers’ (Broadbridge and Hearn, 2008, p. 45).

Research by Cornelius and Skinner (2008) asserts that ‘success, within a capabilities perspective, is something achieved by those who are able to pursue what they have reason to value, and are fully functioning and flourishing. Capabilities theory advocates an enhanced quality of life achieved through the widening of people’s freedoms and choices. Measurement of success does not relate purely to economic indicators but needs to include equity, sustainability and empowerment. Their research highlighted the importance of the family in relation to choices made and measures of success for the women but there was also some evidence of the increasing importance of this aspect for men’ (p. 148).

Findings from their study have implications for the development of corporate policies in general, and internal corporate social responsibility policy (which focuses on employee well-being) and practice in particular. They argue that there needs to be a new research approach to ‘family friendly’ policy development needs not only to address needs in terms of parenting, but empower the family, households and other caring resources also as an act of corporate social responsibility. To reinforce this position, they suggest that governments and the law need to set a floor of entitlements and expectations for women and men where commitment to the family and caring more generally is seen as an important mark of good citizenship rather than signalling an absence of commitment, with companies required to facilitate this. The most recent ‘family friendly’ employment laws in the UK may be signals of changes, albeit small ones, in this direction. In this respect the UK has much to learn from societies where such activities and social relations are given higher priority (ibid, p. 148).

A study by Russell, McGinity, Callan and Keane (2009) describes that while women’s participation in the labour market has changed since the mid-1990s and over the long term there has been a move towards greater gender equality in labour market participation, nevertheless, women remain much less likely to be in the labour market than men. This research demonstrates that Ireland is still some way from achieving gender equality in the labour market. Future policy needs to focus on education, childcare, maternity and parental leave and training/retraining. This study by Russell et al. (2009, p. 79) proved that up to now policy developments in relation to combining work and care for young children have not played a very significant role in the rise in participation of women in the workforce over the last decade. Moreover, managing care with work can cause conflict for women.

Gornick & Meyers, (2003) note that work–life conflict can have a detrimental affect both productivity and on family life. The potential of flexible working arrangements to reduce work pressure and work–life conflict therefore has important implications for employees’ physical and mental wellbeing and potentially has benefits for employers through reduced absenteeism (Gornick & Meyers, 2003). In addition, Burke (1997) asserts that accumulating evidence indicates that organizational-level interventions are more effective and longer lasting than are individual-level interventions.

Furthermore, Fine-Davis, McCarthy, O’Dwyer, Edge and O’Sullivan (2005) established from their pilot studies in Ireland on flexible working and work life balance that the development of an effective framework for flexible working, executed within a national strategy on work-life balance was hugely important if Ireland, both as a society and an economy, was to respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow. In addition, Russell, O’Connell & McGinnity (2009b) explain that since April 2003 parents of young or disabled children in Britain who fulfil length of service criteria have been entitled to the right to ask for flexible working. Furthermore, they note how parents and employees are guaranteed the right to work part-time in Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, France and Sweden.

While flexible working arrangements may suit some women, in most cases, it will not enhance their career advancement, albeit limiting it further by reducing their chances of progression up the ladder to promotion as explained by Martin (1996) while commenting on harassment as well as other gender inequality issues. Martin (1996) in her study identified the lack of flexibility for female officers who wished to take career breaks when having children, although they recognised it effectively limited their promotional opportunities.

While some women opt for flexible work arrangements, although difficult to find in these recessionary times in Ireland, others revert to ‘adaptive preferences’ as discussed as follows:

In their work on ‘adaptive preferences’, Nussbaum (2000) and Sen (2000) argue that in some cases women may put family first, thereby giving up on promotion because they realize the great difficulty of achieving it due to direct and indirect discrimination in some work organizations. Nussbaum (2000) and Sen (2000) provide a powerful critique of choice theory. They show that preferences can be the result of deliberation and that they can change. Preferences are adaptive. They are shaped by constraints. A much more powerful argument for a fairer way to reconcile work and family can be found in Nussbaum’s human capabilities approach.

A focus on human capabilities considers what people are actually able to do and to be. It is informed by the ‘intuitive idea of a life that is worthy of the dignity of the human being' and the idea that everyone is to be treated as an end and not merely as the tool of the ends of others’ (Nussbaum 2000, p. 5). Human capabilities are broadly defined and include health, bodily integrity, the ability to form emotional attachments, to love, to access education, to work, hold property and to participate in the political choices that govern one’s life. Nussbaum is quite clear that in a just society everyone must have the potential to realise their human capabilities but an individual may choose not to realise all of them or choose not to realise them all of them at once (Nussbaum 2000, p. 86-88).

Grace, Leahy and Doughney (2005) found that women’s preferences were shaped by prevailing gender inequality. For example some women would not seek senior corporate positions because they understand that recruitment and promotion systematically favoured their male colleagues (Doughney 2004). Other women recognised that a culture of long hours of work is hostile to family life and adjust their expectations of paid employment accordingly. They go on to note that policy based on adaptive preferences may entrench the constraints. This vicious cycle can be illustrated by the following scenario: Women do not seek senior positions because they know they are less likely to get the job, they do not want the long hours, and dislike the masculine culture. Organisations and governments consider the situation reflects what women really want. There is no incentive to introduce policies to address the core issues. The expectation that women will not take on senior positions is reinforced (Doughney 2004). It is for this reason that revealed preferences form a poor basis for social policy (Nussbaum 2000). In some situations, women leave work altogether when not satisfied with their work arrangements.

Colgan & Ledwith (1996) compares with O’Connor (2005) by asserting that women searching for better, more women friendly opportunities chose to leave work in order to establish their own autonomy. Hochschild (2003) from her groundbreaking US studies found that many working mothers return from jobs outside the home to assume full or primary responsibility for housework and childcare. Furthermore, Hochschild notes that even when their husbands share these responsibilities, women perform more of the day-to-day drudgery, and both men and women tend to view the conflict between work and family as the wife's problem. The resulting strain on women's lives may be responsible for countless failed marriages (Hochschild 2003).

The CSO (Quarter 3, 2009) published (July 29th 2010) reported on Carers. The large scale survey whose module focus was on those providing unpaid informal care and not those receiving care found the following key findings in terms of carers in the overall population:

Furthermore, other results from Ireland by Lynch and Lyons (2008, p.175) from the European Community Household Panel (ECHP), Ireland Wave, 2001, showed that ‘women in Ireland who were in fulltime employment felt constrained by their care responsibilities in a way men did not’. Moreover, the report Who Cares? Challenging the myths about gender and care in Ireland (2009, p. 14) states that: for men, having children has no impact on their employment rate. In comparison, the care and domestic work that women do - particularly raising children - has a significant impact on their employment rates (CSO, 2009). For example, employment rates for men and women in the 20-44 age bracket in 2008 showed that only 57% of women who had a child in the 0-3 age group were at work while 91% of men in the same bracket were at work. Also only 60% of women were at work, having a child in the 4-5 age bracket whereas 88% of men who had a child in the 4-5 age bracket were at work (Who Cares?, challenging the myths about gender and care in Ireland, 2009, p. 14).

In agreement with Hochschild (2003), Lynch (2007) in her seminal work on love labour in Ireland affirms that the division of care labour is gendered, classed and raced locally and globally. Additionally, women bear disproportionate responsibility for care work, be it in the informal world of work in the family or in the formal world of the care economy (Lynch, 2007). Lynch (2007, p. 552) quoting Nussbaum, (1995a, 1995b:2000) asserts that ‘feminist inspired scholars have drawn attention to the salience of care and love as public goods, and have identified the importance of caring as a human capability meeting a basic human need’.

Moreover, Lynch (2007, p. 553) states that ‘being loved and cared for is not only vital for survival in infancy, early childhood or at times of illness or vulnerability, but throughout human life’. Lynch’s seminal work explores how love labouring can be distinguished from other forms of care work. She suggests that primary care relations are not sustainable over time without love labour; that the realization of love, as opposed to the declaration of love, requires work.

According to Badgett and Folbre (1999) there has been no serious account taken of the reality of dependency for all human beings, both in childhood and at times of illness and infirmity. Moreover, Lynch and Lyons (2008, p. 168) state that ‘no national study has been undertaken of the scope and nature of care and love work in private households in Ireland’.

In addition, (Hilliard, 2007, p.130, in Lynch and Lyons, 2008, p.175) confer that ‘findings from the International Social Survey (ISSP) in 2002 demonstrated that almost two thirds of women in Ireland felt they ‘did much more than their fair share’ of housework while 62 per cent felt they did more than their fair share of household labour in comparison to only 6 per cent of men who felt they did more than their fair share’ (Hilliard, 2007, p. 130). Another powerful viewpoint acknowledged by Lynch (2007) is that not all care labour can be commodified, that is, labour cannot be provided on a paid hire and fire basis. Concurring with this, Badgett and Folbre, (1999, p. 318) recognise that this poses a challenge for society. They say that ‘people need time apart from paid employment and from individualised leisure to do the loving of others’.

In summary, as demonstrated by the above authors, managing care with work poses challenges for women. If there is not a good work life balance it will be reflected in their work and in their family life. The research demonstrates that Ireland is still some way from achieving gender equality in the labour market. As a society Ireland needs to constantly renew its efforts to ensure equal treatment for women and men in all aspects of employment and to support men and women to positively reconcile work and family life. Right now, in a context where its future as a society is naturally driven by economic debate, it is essential that Ireland we does not lose sight of the economic and social benefits of equality – in the labour market and in society as a whole (Russell, McGinity, Callan and Keane, 2009, p.iii).

Hochschild’s (2003) US study could be applied to Ireland too because women in Ireland are doing the ‘Second Shift’ at home when they return from their days work. Lynch (2007), Badgett and Folbre (1999) and Lynch & Lyons (2008) all debate that love labour is not something to be hired and paid for. Everyone is entitled to be loved and cared. However, as their studies have outlined, 99 per cent of women are doing the caring as well as the housework and combining it with their work, in other words doing the ‘Second Shift’. All this would be fine if they were allowed this in their work, however they are not and as discussed by Martin (1996) above, it inhibits their promotion.

This study builds on and responds to the issues raised on work and caring responsibilities from research mostly sourced from UK and international studies because of the paucity of peer reviewed research on this topic, available in Ireland, dealing with how female officers manage their caring responsibilities with work. The above studies have clarified the situations of gender inequality by depicting experiences and examples of same from an international perspective (Cowan, 2007). This work synthesises the research conducted by the researcher on the Garda Siochána in Ireland. As with the authors above, the researcher utilised a qualitative research methodology by employing semi-structured interviews to acquire rich data for her study.

Methodology ToC

Like Haraway (1991), the researcher wanted to situate herself in the research while giving a voice to the female officers (foot soldiers) who worked on the ground. Being influenced by standpoint theory, the research was informed by such an approach. Concurring with Ramazanoglu and Holland (2006) previous authors, for example Harstock (1983); Haraway (1991); Millen (1997) and Harding (1997) all point to the value of what women have to say in their viewpoints about gendered lives.

The research, conducted in 2009 took place in and around a North West of Ireland town comprising semi-structured interviews with ten female gardaí in both urban and rural police stations. The respondents consisted of four sergeants and six officers aged between 27 and 50 years of age respectively. Their length of service was from one to twenty five years. Eight out of the ten respondents were married with children

Ethical clearance was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee at NUI Galway. Participants were notified in advance about the research by the researcher writing to the Superintendent in the urban station and once consent was given by him, letters together with research statements were sent to all police stations, followed by phone calls outlining the research and its purpose, including its confidentiality to the sergeants in charge. Once consent regarding participation was given, the researcher re-assured the participants about confidentiality, storage and disposal of their information for the study.

The researcher employed non-probability sampling with female gardaí being interviewed on meeting the criteria for the research, i.e. having caring responsibilities at home (Bryman, 2008, p. 168). In some cases this method of sampling permits the selection of participants from a population of significance, so that by studying the sample it would be possible to generalise results back to the general population. According to Denscombe (2003) specifically selecting a sample in this manner is referred to as purposive sampling.

The informal consented interviews were subjective, sensitive and respectful (Byrne and Lentin 2000; Letherby 2003). The researcher situated herself as another ‘other’ in the research by initiating and encouraging dual reflexivity between the respondents and herself. According to Armitage & Gluck (1998) conducting an interview is the best method for understanding a woman’s experiences and her agency. Interviews were analysed by qualitative content analysis and ‘data-sampling’.

The goal of content analysis is “to provide knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon under study” (Hsiu-Fang Hsieh & Sarah E. Shannon, 2005, p. 1278). Data-sampling involves selecting those parts of the conversations that were specifically concerned with the issues the researcher wished to understand, for example, managing caring with work (Hollway, 1989 cited in Dick and Cassell, 2004, p. 60).

Findings and AnalysisToC

The findings were grouped and analyzed according to themes and sub-themes, which emerged hermeneutically from analysis of the research. In addition, findings were analyzed and discussed by addressing the following questions that emanated from the three core research questions above. For the purposes of this paper, question three above will be addressed and will conclude with a summary of the findings:

Does the domestic caring responsibility of female officers limit their expectations of promotion?ToC

In attempting to answer this core question the researcher posed the following ones to the respondents:

In considering if male counterparts had similar challenges when combining work with caring responsibilities, six out of ten respondents answered no to this question. Respondent 3 who is married claimed, “a lot of male officers are married to nurses and teachers who would be working different hours to them”. This reference was indicating that male officers owing to their marital status were not under stress from work and caring duties like these female officers. Respondent 9 said, “My own husband, a police officer doesn’t have the same challenges as I have with our kids”. While respondent 10, also married said, “everything inside and outside the house is done by women”.

In balancing their work and caring responsibilities, female officers appeared to be under strain and pressure, especially those with children. Female officers who did not have any children or who were single (two officers in this study) also had challenges in their work. For example, respondent 4 who is single mentioned that, “promotion is a joke here, it’s who you know in the police, not what you know”. She continued by saying, “I’m very cynical of upper management and all of that, I think it’s just a click and ah, it’s that an awful lot of the top management doesn’t know what’s going on, say on the street and there is no value left on the uniformed officer there in the station this morning”. This was in discussion about Interpol promotions in which she and two male policemen applied. Both positions were awarded to the two men. After being given the job, one man turned it down. In the meantime she had complained about the two men being selected in opposition to her. This, she said, “diminished her chances of even being offered the refused position”. According to her, she was as qualified as the two men with 25 years’ service but why was she not selected for a post?

On a more in-depth level of analysis, Gornick & Meyers, (2003) asserted that work–life conflict can have a detrimental affect both productivity and on family life and if it becomes too overpowering it may cause employees to leave work. Respondent 6 while commenting on her friend, a female officer in Dublin who is experiencing conflict at work, said “she I seriously bad at the moment; in fact she is depressed and is fully considering packing it all in”. Research by Colgan & Ledwith (1996) and O’Connor (2005) confirm this by asserting that women searching for better, more women friendly opportunities choose to leave work in order to establish their own autonomy. On the other hand, as was stated above, some female officers, may like Nussbaum, 2000; Sen, 2000, Grace, Leahy, Doughney, employ adaptive preferences, realising that promotion would not be feasible due to their choices of caring for their family over work commitments.

The research revealed that in Ireland, like the USA, as described by Hochschild (2003, women end up doing the ‘Second Shift’ at home as well as in work. Second shift here refers to women coming home from work and having to tackle doing the next shift of work at home. In addition as noted by Martin (1996) and in this study, there was a lack of flexibility for female officers who wished to take career breaks when having children, although they realised that taking a career break effectively limited their promotional opportunities. More value should be placed on the love labour that women participate in. Love labour, is about women caring for: their children, husband and extended family as well as themselves. They worry about how the children are doing and how they are getting on and sometimes feel guilty that they leave the children and go to work. This needs to be acknowledged and valued and was alluded to by Lynch (2007) Badgett and Folbre (1999) and by Lynch and Lyons (2008). Badgett and Folbre (1999) claimed that there has been no serious account taken of the reality of dependency for all human beings, both in childhood and at times of illness and infirmity. This information contributes to why female offices do not partake in promotion for fear of not being able to fulfil their caring ‘second shift’ duties at home, which does not affect male officers in the same way.

Furthermore, Lynch (2007) stated that not all care labour can be provided on a paid hire and fire basis. In addition, based on the ethic of care theory female officers always put their family before their work (Rape-Hemp, 2008, p. 431) as they were very aware of where their priorities lied. For example, in discussing their aspirations for career advancement; seven out of ten noted that promotion meant moving away from home. Respondent 10 said, “I could be moved to Cork or the top end of Donegal if I did the sergeants exam, I can’t because my baby is my priority”. Respondent 9 said, “I thought I’d be the first Commissioner, I’d done so much in such a short time until I was held back by my 5, 2 and 1 year olds”. In addition, respondent 1 said, “I’ve no aspirations; I’ve enough responsibility at home. Concurring with these statements are data from Lynch and Lyons (2008) who note from the European Community Household Panel (ECHP), Ireland Wave, 2001, that ‘women in Ireland who were in full time employment felt constrained by their care responsibilities in a way men did not’.

In terms of where they see themselves in 10 years time, three respondents said they hoped to be retired and three said they hoped to be still working but closer to home: “I want to be working nearer home to be with my family”, respondent 3. Respondent 4, “hoped to be retired”. With regard to the formulation of their goals being affected by their gender, two respondents commented that “here it’s who you know, who you’re in with, not what you know”. Four respondents iterated, “my family dictates my goals, nothing to do with gender”. Three respondents described not going on for promotion because “I’ve chosen family over work”, respondent 9. Furthermore, respondent 5 said, “in my 13 years here I’ve only seen men promoted”. While respondent 6 asserted, “a friend of mine is an officer in Dublin but she has to leave the police because of hassle over her gender”. Also respondent 2 stated, “I’m tied to my caring duties, men don’t have these worries as their wives probably do it for them”.

In addressing if domestic caring responsibilities of female officers limit their expectations of promotion, both the findings from this study and the literature in the review concur on this topic. The following paragraphs show factors impinging on female officer’s progression in work:

Shift cyclesToC

All the female officers with caring responsibilities recalled the difficulty of combining their work as a police officer with their caring responsibilities. Eight of the interviewees had children and described in detail about how they were juggling work with their domestic caring responsibilities, especially those females who work on the ‘regular’ three shifts; ‘early’s’, ‘late’s’ and ‘nights’. Four of the officers were married to male police officers and this hindered them in so far as organizing their childcare and household. For example, they had to work on opposite shifts which meant having no weekends (except one in four) or holidays off together. Time off included them juggling everything on alternate days and in some cases only having a few hours sleep between shifts. They talked about meeting each other in the door way, on their way to leaving the child/children to the childcare facility/school. It can be a struggle being available for their household chores, dropping children to crèche/school and being available for work.

Expectations about AvailabilityToC

Listening to and giving female officers a voice to express their concerns has filled some of the gaps in the literature review. Moreover, in acknowledging that many women have entered the police over the past ten years, findings from the interviews with these female gardaí appear to confirm that little has been done to facilitate them with their caring responsibilities. This makes it difficult for them to be like their male colleagues who are seemingly always ready and available for work. Respondent 7 echoing respondent 3 above said “you’ll find most male guards are married to nurses/teachers and most female gardaí are married to male guards, this makes it so difficult when it comes to caring for the children. It’s ok for the male guard, all is done for him at home but we and I think I can speak for all female gardai with children; we have to do it at home as well as in here at work.

It was evident that female officers tended to put their children/families first; from conducting this research, particularly the fieldwork, the researcher learned that female officers have very different attitudes to work and to family than male officers. Respondent 8 said “my father was a policeman; we moved three times, this had a detrimental effect on us as children. I told my husband that when we had kids, we would not move them. Now we have three kids and they will not be moved. We have done the travelling ourselves and keep hoping to get our posts as near to home as possible”. This in itself shows how women think differently; a male officer years ago and probably now would put his job before his family. In this study, all married female officers with children said their children were their number one priority and not work.

Thus the researcher would disagree with Dick and Jankowicz, 2001, cited in Dick, 2004, p. 314) who claim from their research that Police managers place a high value on behaving equitably towards staff. In this Irish study, it is clear from listening to the voices of the female officers that senior management appear to have not altered their policies to account for the number of young female officers who are or would be intending to start and rear a family and be available at all times to work, while continuing in their profession as female policewoman. When asked if there were family friendly policies in operation in their place of work, all officers answered, “If there are I didn’t hear about them”, effectively meaning they do not exist.

The concept of love labour is affirmative in that it identifies the core aspects of responsibility that is experienced by working mothers as was identified by participants in this study. All female officers with children and including those who did not have children just yet all agreed that the mother is the primary career. Unfortunately, the Irish government does not allow for this, moreover, given that only approximately 15% of our Dáil (Irish Parliament) members are female, it does not give women in Ireland much political acclaim. More recognition and affirmation should be awarded to women who do the ‘Second Shift’ as well as working fulltime. Only one female officer in this study worked part-time, this was because she had a child who has a serious medical condition. All the other officers said they could not afford to work part-time owing to financial commitments, therefore, they have no choice but to struggle on doing ‘two’ jobs. At work, they do their daily routine, but their focus is not on promotion.

Routes to promotionToC

Where female police had been successful in the sergeant’s exam, they decided not to pursue the potential outcome any further. Respondent 8 said “I did it and got it [Sergeants exam] because I wanted to prove to myself that I could assert myself and study, however that was before the babies arrived”. Furthermore, they referred to transfers nearer to home in which their colleagues had applied for but did not get and which was subsequently given to young male police who were just after arriving to the district fresh from Templemore Garda Training College. The literature review cites numerous pieces of research including worldwide views to suggest that gender inequality in the police force is a universal problem. It can be argued that female officers should strongly advocate through the Garda union representatives and the media for better equality in their work life balance including putting forward their views on love labour, indicating how it impacts their work and their chances for career advancement.

On reflection of both secondary and primary research findings and allowing for the size of this small sample it may therefore be suggested, that overall, from a management perspective, gender inequality appears to be practiced in this Police division, therefore limiting the chances of promotion for female offices. This can be explained from the interviews with the female officers. For example, they talked about how 9 out of 10 times a female officer is given the task of dealing with women and children as well as sexual matters that arises for people who need assistance and advice from the police. However, the female officers acknowledge that they do not have any specialized training for this in comparison to their male colleagues. Furthermore, there was the unfairness of witnessing young male officer coming to the urban police station and subsequently being re-deployed in a station where women had previously asked to be transferred to in order to be nearer to their families.

In addition, there was also evidence of a female officer with 25 years experience not getting any of the two jobs for which she applied. In this instance both positions were filled by the young male applicants who applied alongside her for the position, even though she was the more experienced of the three applicants. Also, female officers had to travel long distances to work while male officers in the stations have only to travel 20 minutes to work. Moreover, according to this cohort of female officers there are no family friendly policies in operation. Respondent 2 said, “I only took the 24 or 26 weeks maternity time off each time with my three children, if I took the 14 un-paid weeks afterwards I would have to pay it back by working those extra weeks at the end of my time, so why bother”. Based on the above evidence, there is a need for a change in organizational as well as work policies.

In summary, while this is by no means a conclusive or exhaustive study it has generated qualitative data and should not be dismissed. The researcher can confirm that female officers were very open about discussing their views, attitudes, feelings, and beliefs. In addition, they also discussed in detail their role in work, in dealings with the public and in the challenges of combining their work with their caring responsibilities. Research established that female officers do not experience gender inequality while working in their units in their police stations on a daily basis or when in contact with the public.

The researcher would agree with Dick & Jankowicz (2001) who argue that women's progression is impeded not because of dominant constructions of the role per se, but by the way such constructions intersect with broader socio-cultural constructions of women's domestic roles. Female officers place an increased emphasis on their families and their caring responsibilities. Furthermore, career advancement was extremely limited in part because of self-exclusion based on women’s decisions about their caring responsibilities. This provides more evidence of a need for working policy to change and in agreement with Dick & Cassell (2004, p. 69) the researcher would assert that ‘at present, working practices that produce excessive demands on police officers’ time are the key reproducers of the dominant discourses that operate to disadvantage working mothers in particular’.

The participants in this study demonstrated that women have a unique world perspective defined by care thinking which is guided by empathy (Gilligan, 1982 cited in Rape-Hemp, 2008, p. 426). Moreover, while the research was not intended to make generalisations, it is intended to act as a starting point for which to provoke thought in relation to female officers, the concept of gender inequality in the form of self-exclusion and promotional disadvantage and how female officers combine their work with their caring roles and responsibilities. It can be argued that female officers in this study decided to accept the status quo and did not actively resist or adopt stereotypical norms of femininity and policing, broadening their opportunities for work in the male dominated occupation while reinforcing their traditional conception of gender difference (Rape- Hemp, 2009, p. 114). The results of the study may be considered representative of many female officers in Ireland. Findings from the study may provide useful information for future policy and organisational structure planning (Child, 1972, cited in Faulkner, 2002: 114).


The findings suggest that, while there appears to be no gender inequality experienced by female officers in their day-to-day work on the ground, there is evidence for a change in organisational and work policies for female police officers. From their dealings with the public, female officers expressed clearly that attitudes are currently changing as opposed to years ago. For instance, female officers are mostly accepted nowadays. However, with regard to promotion, the findings have demonstrated that female officers are reluctant to apply. This manifested itself in the way that female officers openly discussed their fears of rejection because they are women. This was compounded by their fears of being transferred away from home and their family resulting from being accepted for the promotion. Hence, many of them are discouraged to apply for promotion.

In addition, female officers placed an increased emphasis on their families and their caring responsibilities. Furthermore, career advancement was extremely limited in part because of self-exclusion based on women’s adaptive preferences about adhering to their caring responsibilities at home. Moreover, female officers suggested that they would not be interested in applying for promotion because too many times they have seen men being accepted over them. Finally, in their interviews, female officers with children said they have resigned themselves not to apply for promotion and were struggling to juggle their work with their caring responsibilities.

On a final note, it appears from what the respondents have stated, that resulting from a failure to have their voices heard by putting forward their views regarding their concerns, female officers remain under represented in their profession. Taken within the context of this study it may therefore be stated, that the lack of communication between female officers and management may be one of the contributing factors which leads to female police being excluded from decision making practices which could impact on their working lives and on their futures. It appears that at present, the reality of a rank oriented organizational culture poses serious limitations for those officers wishing to adopt alternative, transformative ways of working that require more open and participatory forms of engagement and communication with colleagues (Silvestri 2007, p. 44).

Female gardaí need to assert their agency from a policy standpoint. The researcher posits that trans-disciplinary work is needed. This could involve regular meetings between management and all gardaí, which would enable a collective voice to be heard; where they could discuss their training, work and future development with the view to providing an holistic professional service in conjunction with their colleagues and co-professionals for the betterment of all citizens on the island of Ireland and beyond.


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