Winnipeg played host to the International Association of Women in Police conference this past weekend.

Those in attendance were hoping to better understand why so few women choose to work in law enforcement as a profession.

“It is a male-dominated profession and it will always be a male-dominated profession, but there are a lot of fantastic females and they are, in my opinion, needed,” said Sgt. Nicole Mailhiot.

Mailhiot started as a constable in general patrol with the Winnipeg Police Service 17 years ago and she is still certain she made the right career choice.

“I've never been put in a situation in my 17 years where I thought, ‘I can't do this, I can't do what … my male partner is doing,’” said Mailhiot. “I've never felt that way.”

Male-dominated industry

Women police

Winnipeg hosted the International Association of Women in Policing conference over the weekend to showcase what the city has to offer and to learn more about why so few females pursue a career in law enforcement. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

Right now only about nine per cent of the world’s police officers are female.

Out of the nearly 1,500 officers in the Winnipeg Police Service, just 225 are women.

Of Winnipeg's women in blue:

  • 176 are Constables
  • 30 are Patrol or Detective-Sergeants
  • 13 are Sergeants
  • Three are Staff Sergeants
  • Three Inspectors

And although a huge disparity remains, the demographics have improved over the years.

“We didn't have a female Ident officer and now we have three in this department,” said Sgt. Sandra Martin, who joined the force 20 years ago.

Martin helped bring the International Association of Women in Policing conference to Winnipeg three years ago to showcase what this city has to offer, but also to learn more about why so few females pursue a career in law enforcement.  

“We almost got to a point where we stopped asking those questions, so we don't know” said Martin. “Is it the shift work that people are turned off of? No one has research on that.

"That was one of the motivations for the conference. You don't know why that's the case until you start asking those questions."

Manitoba numbers low

Fifteen per cent of police in Canada are women, and in Manitoba that number is slightly lower and has been for some time.

Currently around 13  and 14 per cent of Winnipeg’s police are women. 

“I think we've made advancements,” said RCMP Inspector Joanne Keeping.

Keeping said she has seen progress in her 26-year police career, but acknowledged more work still needs to be done.

“Definitely when a police organization represents its population then it can be more effective,” said Keeping.

Sgt. Martin said there has been a 10 year gap in research on the topic, but hoped the conference would inspire researchers to examine what is holding women back from wanting to become police officers.