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Gender Goals for RCMP Recruitment Are Good But Not Good Enough

11/11/2014 12:43 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST

The RCMP's announcement, to recruit women as 50 per cent of their new entrants next year, follows a high profile examination of the challenges facing women in the force and a desire to better reflect Canadian society. Currently females constitute 20 per cent of the RCMP members. But, is increased recruitment enough?

Recruiting more women is a positive step as the new RCMP recruitment material recognizes women bring different perspectives and behaviours to policing. A danger in announcing a 50 per cent target for their training classes at the academy in Regina is the temptation, should there be insufficient numbers of female applicants, to reduce the entry standards to meet the targets. Such approaches neither serve the RCMP nor the men and women who can and do meet the standards and must be resisted.

Is increased recruitment enough to change the current dynamic where women are a minority in a culture which has not yet changed enough to make their experience welcoming? The short answer is no.

History has demonstrated that increasing the representation of women in an organization or profession does not automatically result in culture change. Women have been graduating from law and business programs in significant numbers for many years. Yet they are not equitably represented in the senior levels of law firms and business. Evidence shows that without culture change, women do not feel comfortable or valued in the organization. Often they are judged by male standards which both diminishes their opportunity for advancement and ignores the value of the different perspectives and approaches that women bring to the leadership in any organization.

Upon graduation from the academy in Regina, women members will be sent to detachments all across Canada ranging from very small to large. In some detachments they may be the only woman, leaving them without the support of larger numbers of women experienced at the academy. Some detachments are very isolated which may increase the risk for women. Absent significant cultural change within the RCMP, they may not feel supported or welcomed or worse. Recent allegations by existing female members suggests that the RCMP culture has not changed enough to fully embrace women's different perspectives and strengths. Women cannot be expected to make these changes simply because they are encouraged to apply to the RCMP to increase the number of women members.

Strong leadership from the senior executive of the RCMP, awareness training across RCMP leadership of possible unconscious bias, including at the academy, respecting the value of the different perspectives women bring to the profession and taking decisive action, which does not penalize the complainant, when women are harassed is essential to create a climate of inclusion. Processes for promotion and advancement must also be reflective of the strengths that women bring to the organization.

Leaders need to be held accountable at all levels in the organization for treating members with respect irrespective of culture or gender and according to their needs and values. A policy of zero tolerance for harassment and increased recruitment is not enough. Female members can only feel confident when their complaints are taken seriously and redress is provided when necessary. Failure to provide remedies will continue to undermine women's efforts to become equal partners. Inclusion happens when there is sustained leadership by example, commitment to culture change, attention to daily interactions where culture exists in action and follow up to measure the results of more recruitment and changes in culture.

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