To the consternation of senior officers, policewomen are not applying for posts in firearms groups, marine units and fast vehicle response teams because they are repelled by their "entrenched culture of masculinity".
The findings come in the biggest-ever study of the role of women in British policing, which will force chief constables into a major re-think of their equal opportunities policies.
The research reveals that women officers working in a high-crime area of Newcastle upon Tyne arrested on average more dangerous house-breakers, car thieves and joy-riders than male officers.
The study's author, Louise Westmarland, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Teesside, said her findings dispelled the myth that women were allocated to quiet beats.
She said: "The men were getting more arrests for `non-crimes' like not having a tax-disc but the women were getting more of what are known in police circles as a `good pinch', the aggravated burglars and car thieves."
Dr Westmarland's three-year publicly-funded study involved a year spent shadowing officers in the Northumbria and Durham forces.
She found that the deep-rooted sexism, for which the police service has long been criticised, had been replaced by more subtle limitations on the career-paths of women.
Because of a scarcity of resources and the use of computers in allocating officers to jobs, uniformed women officers are likely to be given the same patrolling tasks as men.
But the opportunities for promotion are still marked out in terms of gender. While women officers were happy to further their careers by applying for jobs in the Child and Family Protection unit, or more office-based sections like the fraud squad or the training department, the "guns, cars and horses" were still seen as a male domain, said Dr Westmarland.
"It's not the old story of a sexist conspiracy," she said. "In actual fact the reverse is true. The managers would love to see more women in these posts but the current culture in these units is attractive to men and unattractive to women."
She explained that the modern police ethos of "service" instead of "force" had ushered in a feminisation of the police with more emphasis on community care and "less on breaking down doors".
The process had driven some male officers to seek out masculine havens where they could practise traditional male pursuits of shooting, driving and chasing.
She said: "These men don't have to cope with the force being more feminized. They can continue to exist in an exclusively male enclave."
Dr Westmarland, whose research will be published as a book in the new year, said only radical measures to break-up this entrenched culture would encourage women into the specialist branches of work.
Her report states that females comprised only 3% of Northumbria's specialist units although they made up 14% of the force. Only one of the 12 firearms officers was a woman and only three of the 160 traffic officers.
The only armed female officer was described by colleagues as "just like one of the lads". Others were concerned by the idea of a female boss. One constable said: "What you don't need is someone who is supposed to be in charge of a firearms incident, way out of her depth, not knowing what to do, her voice going higher and higher, about to burst into tears - it's putting everyone at risk."
Traffic officers recounted a story of a female officer - "eight and a half stone in her nylons" - who handcuffed an 18-stone miner, only to be picked up and carried off.Reuse content