More than 500 female officers from 44 countries around the world attending the International Association of Women Police conference at Birmingham's International Convention Centre were told of a culture of underground sexism and men-only drinking dens.
Dr Malcolm Young, an anthropologist and former police officer, said anti-sexist measures in the force had only driven chauvinism underground. He claimed that senior officers in Britain regularly referred to police women as "burglars' dogs" and many believed they had no place in the force.
He told the audience, which included delegates from the British Association of Women Police, that some female CID officers were shown hard-core pornography by male detectives so they could "get used to the sort of things they will have to deal with".
He said: "I am a pessimist and the situation will only change if we have a 50/50 ratio of male and female officers. There is a culture of deeply entrenched beliefs that women are marginal.
"Sexism is now underground, normally taking place in the CID pub which is usually full of male officers swapping jokes about their female colleagues and using sexist humour.
"Women are invited to see hard-core pornography as part of their training in CID with the explanation that it will get them used to what they will have to face." Dr Young, who based his assertions on 11 years of research conducted while serving as a senior officer in the Merseyside and West Mercia forces, said: "The infrastructure is bound in concrete and an underground network has built up in CID pubs where sexist humour prevails."
Catherine Little, a law lecturer at Manchester Metro University, agreed that a macho culture was discouraging women from joining the police.
She said that the police force was based on a "militaristic model" and needed more emphasis on services. "There is a macho view of rough, tough police work which we see every week on The Bill, but we know that police work is not only about that.
"Masculine culture intrudes into the private lives of women officers such as speculation over whether she is a 'dyke or a bike'.
"There seems to be some reluctance to fully embrace equal opportunities policies in some forces. Often equal opportunities is the province of the personnel department and is run by civilian employees.
"The culture within the police force is such that there is sometimes a suspicion of civvies and so equal opportunities takes a back seat.
And she warned: "Some officers still do not fully realise that certain language and behaviour is unacceptable to female officers. The force must be seen to be openly challenging this kind of locker room behaviour which still exists among some male officers. It is the responsibility of employers to ensure they avoid costly litigation."Reuse content