Lori Culbert (Vancouver Sun) – The RCMP’s top recruiter in B.C. doesn’t believe the recent spate of sexual harassment lawsuits filed against the force will reduce the number of women interested in a policing career.
Instead of being deterred by the bad press, many of today’s new female recruits understand what policing is about and what the job entails, Supt. Maria Nickel said.
“Really, you are going into a predominantly male environment and that you need to rely on that inner strength that we all have, and to put that to your advantage when you are in any work situation,” Nickel said in an interview.
“Let’s face it, you could work for a bank somewhere and be subjected to some form of harassment. You need to be able to have that strength to deal with it. I think the bulk of the ladies who are coming out as applicants realize that.”
The comments from Nickel, who is in charge of recruiting for B.C. and Yukon, came hours before the RCMP issued a sweeping denial Tuesday of allegations in a high-profile sexual harassment suit by B.C. Cpl. Catherine Galliford.
The allegations by Galliford, who was the force’s public face during the Air India and Robert Pickton cases, prompted other women to come forward with their own claims of abuse.
In March, Vancouver lawyer David Klein filed a lawsuit alleging harassment and mistreatment of another female RCMP officer.
He has since heard from 200 female Mounties interested in joining the suit, if it is certified as a class action.
Nickel said female recruits need “resilience,” especially to deal with harassment if it arises.
“You can either let yourself be a victim of it, if you will, or you can rely on that inner strength to say, ‘No, you know, my intention is that I am going to succeed,’” she said.
By saying new female recruits need inner strength to work within a male environment, Nickel insisted she was not devaluing the allegations in the women’s lawsuits. “I’m not personally familiar with their situations,” she added.
Nickel noted that the number of female recruits rose in the last fiscal year over the previous one.
From March 2011 to March 2012, the RCMP recruited 562 people from across Canada, 156 of whom (27 per cent) were women.
The previous year, 22 per cent of the 567 recruits were women, Nickel said.
Still, the percentage of sworn officers who are female has remained frozen at about 20 per cent for many years.
The force’s top officer, Commissioner Bob Paulson, has said he wants female representation to climb to 35 per cent. In a memo last month, which was leaked to the media, Paulson said a better gender balance would lead to a “healthier workplace.”
He has also launched an RCMP-wide assessment to determine whether women are treated equally when it comes to recruitment and promotion.
Nickel said hiring and training more female officers will take time, but she hopes to meet Paulson’s targets within a year.
A woman who is “very quiet, introverted, [and] withdrawn” is not an ideal candidate for front-line policing, she said, but may be encouraged to pursue a civilian role with the RCMP.
Nickel agreed that interviewers today watch for sexist tendencies in male recruits. Men displaying such traits are told they are not suitable candidates “at this point,” but are not permanently rejected.
Staff Sgt. Abe Townsend, who is on the national executive of the RCMP’s staff relations representation program, said increasing female recruits is laudable, but argued an analysis of labour market availability indicates the 35-per-cent benchmark is not achievable in the near future.
“In order to meet the stretch target, we wouldn’t want to see the recruitment standards minimized,” he added.
Townsend wouldn’t comment on whether the harassment lawsuits will discourage women from joining the RCMP, but said management should use the opportunity to tell Canadians the concerns are being addressed and that a career in policing is rewarding.
“I would hope that the exposure from the somewhat isolated incidents — when you look at the broader number of female officers that we have — isn’t taken out of context,” he added.
Nickel’s unit holds women-only recruiting events, where female Mounties with varied work and life experiences speak about policing.
“It is really important for potential applicants to understand that, ‘Yes, you can balance a career with being a mom,’” said Nickel, a 35-year veteran who has raised two sons and is now a grandmother.
She allowed there is a small percentage of the force, however, that still needs convincing that women can do all facets of police work.
“There are always going to be people who have a different mindset about what is a man’s role, what is a women’s role in any organization …,” Nickel said, “and you need to work on changing that mentality.”