Fast track: You need a thick skin and a strong sense of humour

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The Independent Culture
Six years ago Alison Halford concluded her sex discrimination case against Merseyside Constabulary with an out of court settlement. Here, the policewoman of 30 years writes a cautionary open letter to any young women considering a graduate career in the Police

Congratulations! You've survived that probing extended interview and you think you're on your way.

When I first joined the police in 1960, I was interviewed for `the job' topless in true police style - in hindsight, an outrageous abuse and nothing to do with the medical, but I knew no better and unquestioningly accepted my fate. Spiteful, sexist memos, crude nicknames, reference to boobs, bonking and blow jobs are just some examples of how `the job' treats its women.

The shift work, cold dawn patrols, gruesome traffic accidents, hopeless drunks or the harrowing abuse of a child are the job's bread and butter - the greatest challenge will be how you tackle the macho culture which sees intelligent, capable women as a threat, good only for the butt of laddish vulgarity. Your capacity to cope with the Police force's unchecked sexist culture will fashion your career and determine whether or not you make it to the top. The likelihood is that one in every eight of you will be verbally or sexually harassed during your two-year probationary period.

You will not be sure whether this abuse is part of the force's commonplace initiation ceremonies, which all new recruits must endure, or whether you are being singled out because you are a woman and resented for joining `the job' as a clever clogs. You'll also have a problem finding someone to confide in - experience has taught me that women who make it in the police pull the ladder up behind them. There are a lot of well meaning publications on equal opportunities, but progress towards protecting vulnerable women officers is slow.

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary's 1993 inspection of Merseyside police revealed that the `philosophy of equal opportunities' was often seen as an `additional extra' and not an `integral part of the management and organisation process'.

In the meantime, network with female friends. Keep a covert diary of things which trouble you, but don't tell the boss. Trust no-one!

Grow a thick hide and an outrageous sense of humour. Try to bring others onto your side to ridicule the bullies. Go ballistic if, for example, hard porn is found in your locker. Threaten to involve the media. Write to your MP. If all that fails, quit fast.

Good Luck.