Women comprise only 14.3 percent of law enforcement personnel across the United States, according to a 2008 police administration study by Charles R. Swanson, Leonard Territo and Robert W. Taylor. The public image of police officers as male and the relatively recent entry of females into law enforcement departments in developed countries create a small pay gap between male and female officers.
In the private sector, companies set variable salaries and hourly pay rates for each employee. In these environments, women commonly earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, according to a 2001 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Governments that hire law enforcement officers (LEOs) offer set salaries based upon experience and rank. This means women in law enforcement rarely receive less pay than men with similar experience.
A small pay gap does exist between male and female LEOs in most developed countries. While the U.S. government does not break down the salaries of law enforcement by gender, the Office of National Statistics in Britain publishes the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE). It found that female officers earned hourly pay only 1.44 percent below that of male officers as of 2011, much less than the difference in other fields of work.
While female officers sometimes receive less pay than male officers with similar work experience, they may receive less pay due to their lack of experience. Female police officers who stay in the station as a dispatcher have fewer chances to rise in rank and take fewer risks than male officers out in the field. They may also take off from the force for years due to child caring and bearing. Or they enter the force after they have grown children, limiting their lifetime experience in law enforcement.
Women officers receive protection from pay discrimination under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They should talk to their HR department to resolve pay disputes. If their department is unresponsive, female police officers can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Department of Labor or their state labor board. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, they can initiate a lawsuit and recover damages if their department intentionally paid them less than men because of their gender.
- Police Administration: Structures Processes, and Behavior; Charles R. Swanson, Leonard Territo, Robert W. Taylor
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers
- GAO.gov: Women’s Earnings, Work Patterns Partially Explain Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Earnings
- Office of National Statistics in Britain: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2010 Results Summary
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images