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Interview: 'Male officers don't face as much online abuse about their image'

Chief Insp Christina Fraser spoke with Police Oracle on the challenges facing high profile women in policing, one being the online space.

Chief Insp Christina Fraser says that if senior women officers have a social media profile they are more likely to face online abuse about their appearance than male officers with similar profiles. 

“I feel that women are facing a lot more misogyny online, you get a lot of female officers who are tweeting, probably using Instagram, if they're that way inclined,” Chief Insp Fraser said. 

“You only have to look at Rachel Swann [Derbyshire chief constable] when she was dealing with that national incident as DCC. She faced a huge amount of backlash, and it was around her image, it has nothing to do with the capability or ability as an officer or as a chief officer [...] male officers don't face that online. 

“It's one thing to be questioned about your decision making. It's quite another to be targeted because you don't fit what somebody says you should look like or because you've got ponytail or because your hair is the wrong colour or style [...] That's not acceptable and actually we don't see that being targeted at men in the same way.

“I think that that's a little bit of a barrier when you're talking about quite senior positions.” 

Chief Insp Fraser has been with Dyfed-Powys for 20 years and has been chief inspector for three. She explained that when she first joined the police she hadn’t given much thought to her gender. 

“I was one of only two women on my shift, and we were between six and eight on the shift. But then it didn't really occur to me that I was a bit of a minority,” she told Police Oracle. 

“For me, [I started to notice the difference] when I started trying to approach promotion. So I had taken my sergeant’s exams quite early on, all of a sudden, it was like, well, you've taken your promotional exams, you can't have any other opportunities. I was quite interested in roads policing, but it was a ‘you can't do that.’ 

“Then when I got pregnant, it was very much a ‘we’ve got nothing for you to do. You’ll have to go in and answer the phones and do admin roles.’ Again, it was a case of that's not what I want to do. I've got loads of skills, loads of abilities that I can help in other areas.

“Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you can't do other aspects of policing, and do some of the tabletop investigations into some of the cyber crime or whatever it might be.” 

Chief Insp Fraser chairs Dyfed-Powys’ Gender Equality Network. She explained that a women’s support network was first set up within the force in 2008, and then around three years ago, the group was adapted to allow men to step up and support women as well. 

“Until we encourage men to take up paternity leave, it's not going to free up the women to do more at work and progress themselves either. If we don't assist men with understanding what their parenting rights are, or supporting their own health or mental health, they end up suffering, but it also puts more pressure on women in the workplace,” she explained. 

In December, the College of Policing said that female officers accounted for 45 per cent of all new joiners between July and September 2021 and Chief Insp Fraser is hopeful for the future. 

“College of Policing are bringing in a lot more structured career progression,” she said. 

“They’ve got the Aspire programme, which is fantastic [...] for anyone from protected characteristics which obviously includes women, helping to push you forward with a career plan and put you in contact with executive coaching and things like that. 

“That’s something BAWP does as well, around helping you networking, coaching, putting you in touch with a mentor.

“I think actually the cohort of officers we're taking on at the moment, they are vastly different to the officers that I joined with vastly different to how I was as a student officer. 

“They probably will be the cohort of people that come into this organisation nationally, and do away with some of that misogynistic behaviour. 

“We know what the issue is, the conversation is really getting going and we've got people who are willing to invest and willing to listen and willing to change with us.” 

Chief Inspector Christina Fraser is the Chair of Dyfed Poweys’ Gender Equality Network and comittee member with BAWP

You can find more out about BAWP here

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