An interview with Rachel Manifield

women in the police force

We spoke to Rachel Manifield, Inspector in Devon and Cornwall Police.

“My Dad was a police officer and so was my brother. I saw that it was a varied and rewarding career that could offer me a great deal of opportunity. Ultimately, I felt that if my Grandparents ever dialled 999, I would want someone like me to turn up. Stop bad people – help good people. It’s as simple as that!

My Grandad, the Rev Colin Mynett was the kindest, most intelligent, funny and wonderful man. I know he would be proud of me.

I originally wanted to join the Navy but when the time came, it didn’t offer the same career path or longevity that the police did.

I love the variety of the roles I have had over the years and how I have been able to change direction professionally, as I have matured as a woman. I have held the hand of the dying, travelled to China to hold a lecture for Chinese police and everything in between.

There are various challenges in my job, and it depends on what stage of your career you have reached and what role you do. Shifts are hard now I am older but I am lucky in that I currently don’t have to do them! Consequently, however, I am responsible for a lot of people and make difficult decisions that can affect their lives. 

I am very fortunate in that I have reached a position where I can manage my own calendar. I have a son with special needs and that flexibility allows me to be there for him. I can work remotely and we are getting better at using technology to facilitate agile working. The danger of this is that too much ‘work’ can bleed into family time so I have to remain disciplined and be ‘present’ in whatever arena I am in.

The things that most people think are hard, the violence, the aggression, etc are actually some of the easiest things to deal with as you follow the training and get support. The mental side is probably the hardest for everyone across the board. Police officers can deal with people at the most heartbreaking, vulnerable points in their lives and those memories stay with you forever.

There isn’t enough being done to support women physically and emotionally in the police force but we are improving. In Devon and Cornwall Police we have held a series of training and awareness events around the Menopause and we have a very active Family Support Network as well as a Women in Leadership group. Support for mental health issues applies to men and women and wellness is one of our strategic priorities.”

Barriers for Women in the Police Force

“There aren’t many these days I am pleased to say. The Police is a fairly progressive employer and there are support groups, modern HR practices, and fair promotion procedures. The barriers we face in policing are the same as women everywhere. Juggling family life and work, imposter syndrome, just being generally knackered!

My advice for women that want a career in the police force is to go for it! There are all sorts of specialisms and career paths you can take but the first two years of service, answering 999 calls and helping the public will be the best years of your life! There is no nobler cause than public service. Being in the Police is like having a family and it will support you through a fulfilling and worthwhile career.

Some male colleagues can be a bit unaware of the physical challenges women can face, particularly after childbirth or menopause. It is getting better but there is still an underlying machismo to some of the roles within the police.

The largest obstacle in my career so far was without a doubt being torn between motherhood and wanting to be at work. I love being a mum and spending time with my little boy, but that is not enough to keep me sane. I have to exist outside of the family unit as an independent person. That however then naturally leads to guilt about not being around at home enough! The plight of mums everywhere – policing is no different.

I’ve been discriminated against for my gender in the past, of course, but I refuse to dwell on it. I challenge and move forward. Everyday sexism is appalling and amusing in equal measure. Men don’t generally patronise me twice!

I have always been a feminist but when I was younger, I didn’t realise that it was a ‘thing’. I was just brought up to demand equality of opportunity, and so I did! I don’t think we will ever achieve true equality for many, many generations. Therefore, we must keep raising it, keep challenging and keep looking for ways to support underrepresented groups to achieve equality of opportunity. That’s not just about feminism, it’s about people.

There is equal pay in the police force, in principle. We have set pay scales and we all know what each other earns! However, in reality, more women work reduced hours for family reasons than men and the impact on career progression has never been fully explored. I certainly made the conscious decision to pause my promotion aspirations following the birth of my son. It was my choice but certainly, there are men with a similar length of service and similar ability that are more senior than I.”

Digital and the Police Force

“Thinking about the wider police, Cybercrime is a huge area and we are not quick enough to employ experts from outside of policing to help combat it. Social media is a huge source for good but can also be a toxic place where the vulnerable are easily targeted. Getting one step ahead will be a perpetual challenge for the police service.

In terms of representation in the media, we have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, especially with Cressida Dick becoming the most senior UK police officer. However, one only has to look at the treatment of Rachel Swann, by all accounts an excellent and well-respected officer, to realise we have not actually come very far. Was it her hair or the fact that she is gay or both those things combined with the fact that she has the temerity to be a senior police officer that troubled the media so much?”

The Future of Policing

“I am looking for a potential promotion but competition is strong! If I am not successful then I will look for a lateral move to stretch myself. It is one of the benefits of policing that you can change pathways within the organisation every few years if you wish. I am interested in becoming a firearms commander which will test my decision making and resilience.

As we embrace a younger workforce, our traditional hierarchical structure of leadership must change. A more planal, collaborative style is required. That is a big ask as we still need a disciplined service that can respond in emergencies. No matter what we do, we must maintain the trust and confidence of the public. The police are the public and the public are the police. If we lose that trust we cannot function in the way we do. I absolutely do not want to see the British police routinely armed and so that trust is key to policing by consent.”

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