Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 09:53 UK

Female PSNI chief suffered sexist jokes

Judith Gillespie
Judith Gillespie is the most high ranking female ever in the PSNI

The PSNI's first female deputy chief constable has revealed that she was subjected to sexist jokes in her early career.

Judith Gillespie, 46, said her appointment to second-in-command of the service showed how attitudes to female officers have changed in a generation.

But the mother-of-two - now Northern Ireland's highest ever ranking woman officer - said there was still work to be done to tackle traditional gender imbalances within the service.

"For both police officers and staff I think it is an issue that we as an organisation need to be seriously addressing," she said.

The Cambridge University graduate acknowledged the police was now a world away from the organisation she joined 27 years ago.

"In my squad when I went into the training centre, as it was in Enniskillen, there were 90 people in the squad - 86 men and four women," she recalled.

"Now that by itself creates a dynamic, so being a female officer in those days on operational duty generally speaking you would've been the only female officer on the shift, so you were quite isolated and it could've been quite a lonely place.

Sexism is not unique to the police service and you will encounter that in many walks of life
Judith Gillespie

"Nowadays if you walked into a police station and watched the shift coming on duty the chances are about half of the shift would be female so that's a huge step forward."

The north Belfast woman said she had to develop a defence mechanism to cope with the sexist attitudes she encountered from some male colleagues in her early days in the RUC.

"Sexism is not unique to the police service and you will encounter that in many walks of life, but given that we (women officers) were such a small minority, yes sometimes you did become the butt of comments and jokes and what not, but you just develop strategies to deal with that and developed a fairly thick skin.

"Suffice to say it hasn't done me any harm.

"I had very good friends, female officers and because there were so few of us, you kind of developed an informal support network and you looked after each other."

DCC Gillespie was also the first woman to be appointed a PSNI Assistant Chief Constable, where she was in charge of rural command.

Last month, one week before leaving that post, she was thrust into the spotlight when the family of murdered Catholic community worker Kevin McDaid complained to the Police Ombudsman that her officers had not done enough to prevent the violence that flared in Coleraine that day.

"I know that my officers, as they were when the Coleraine incident happened, worked very, very hard to try and bring that to resolution," she said.

Ms Gillespie, who now earns £150,000 a year in her new post, said she would like to see a woman replacing outgoing chief Sir Hugh Orde.

"I would very much welcome that," she said, adding: "That would be the dream team.

And while the DCC did not meet the criteria to apply for the PSNI's top job this time round, she did not rule out a crack at it at some point in the future.

"When I joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary my ambition was to be a sergeant," she said.

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