The Metropolitan Police Department issued an unusual set of instructions to its 40,000 male officers this month. The MPD asked male officers to start working better with female colleagues. The official directive, issued on Sept. 17, urged male officers to change their outdated perceptions of female colleagues and to wipe out prejudicial attitudes that cause many female officers to quit mid-career.
The MPD’s effort to improve treatment of female officers in their workplace should be commended. For too long, women have waited for things to change with little to show for it. The MPD’s direct action, indeed almost an “order,” to improve female officers’ positions may be the best solution.
If only other workplaces, companies and organizations would also issue such directives, perhaps Japanese women could start to receive more equal treatment.
The MPD’s action was neither halfhearted nor superficial. Included in the instructions were specific demands for male officers to change their misconceptions about females and start treating them as equals. The instructions were explicit about the kinds of discriminatory judgments common among male officers and urged an end to such judgments.
The action also instituted specific structural changes, such as providing women-only toilets and rest lounges for female officers, and encouraged officers to take maternity — and paternity — leave.
These instructions are a positive step to change widespread misperceptions of what police officers do in their work and to accommodate differences between male and female officers.
Certainly most male officers are physically stronger than most female officers. However, though physical force is required in many policing situations, female officers are trained just as carefully in how to use force as men.
Most situations that police officers handle during an average day require more brain than brawn. The majority of tasks that officers handle, such as investigations, patrolling or questioning of suspects, can be handled equally well by male and female officers. For the most challenging police tasks requiring knowledge, intelligence or interpersonal skills, the skills of male and female officers derive from experience, insight and mental strength — not gender.
The MPD instructions recognize that traditional attitudes about female officers have resulted in 50 to 70 resignations every year, and that change is needed to stop these losses. A fully functioning police department that works to serve and protect Japanese society must include many female officers.
The police department, with its strict chain of command, has taken an important step toward establishing better working conditions for female officers. Hopefully the direct action to change attitudes and improve treatment of female employees will catch on in other sectors of Japanese society.