The Australian Federal Police’s manager of people strategies shares how the organisation is working to recruit more women into the force.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) was facing an issue all too common for many other industries – a lack of female talent entering and then progressing through the organisation.
We desperately needed to tackle the underrepresentation of women in sworn (entry-level) policing and protective service officer roles. The proportion of women in these roles was sitting at 24 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. The task of increasing these ratios has been an ongoing challenge for the AFP, with female applicants for sworn recruit roles averaging only 27 per cent of total candidate pools.
Former AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin didn’t take this issue lightly. In 2016, he said:
“Achievement of a diverse workforce and an inclusive workforce culture are not merely ‘nice to have’ – they are imperative to our capability as an effective, future-focused police organisation.”
This commitment was realised through the AFP’s first female-only recruitment drive in 2017, an initiative to help achieve the organisation’s vision of a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Since then, we’ve managed to increase female workforce participation. Here’s how we did it.
Taking to social media
As part of the female-only recruitment drive, we used a targeted marketing campaign which included extensive use of social media and case study stories of women who were already working within the AFP to appeal to potential new recruits.
For example, we shared a story of Superintendent Corey Heldon, who did away with her career in banking to join the AFP 27 years ago. In a blog post, Heldon shared her experience of the rewarding career she’s had, including deployment opportunities overseas to Bali and the Solomon Islands, and the accolades she has collected for her hard work.
We had Heldon share stories like this, in an effort to show just how diverse and far reaching a career in the AFP can be.
“I think one of the best things about being in the AFP is the opportunity to have a diverse and rewarding career. I have had so many opportunities to take part in some very interesting work in ACT Policing, in National roles and internationally. Because we are part of the AFP it means members can have many careers in one organisation,” said Heldon.
“If I were to give advice to women considering a career in law enforcement I would say that this is a challenging and unique job and it is entirely possible to manage all aspects of your life and still have a rewarding career.”
After we told the stories of existing recruits, it was time to answer the questions of potential recruits. We had then commissioner Colvin and deputy commissioner Leanne Close go on Facebook to take live questions from potential applicants. Women asked questions about career progression opportunities, selection processes and the type of support offered to new recruits in the force.
While the majority of questions were focused on general information, there were some who queried the reason for needing to conduct a female-only recruitment drive. The AFP’s response to this was that we felt it was imperative that our workforce reflects the community it serves.
This was also supported by the AFP Cultural Reform Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2016-2026) which identified women as one of our top five diversity group priorities. The other four were: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, people living with a disability, people who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse and those in the LGBTIQ+ community.
While the social media campaign drew its fair share of criticism for its decision to only target female applicants, usually from previous candidates who had been unsuccessful, the results prove that it was all worth it. Over 1,500 women applied for a job at the AFP as a result of this campaign.
AHRI’s short course ‘Attracting and retaining talent’ will teach you how to use modern strategies, like social media, to recruit the best people and keep them on board.
Taking it even further
The social media strategy was just one prong used to make the AFP’s workforce more diverse and inclusive. To support and embed this commitment, the AFP is also taking a range of complementary steps to make a positive difference, including:
- trialing de-identified promotion/recruitment processes to address and minimise unconscious bias;
- initiating a review of the entry-level recruitment process to ensure there are no unintended barriers for female applicants;
- mandating that selection panels must have gender balance;
- reviewing position titles, applicant information packs and job descriptions prior to advertising to assess for gendered and inclusive language;
- creating an applicant register of interest to maintain contact with candidates interested in policing and protection roles;
- a refreshed approach to testing the cognitive ability of applicants for entry-level positions by providing more regular opportunities for candidates to complete the testing in more locations across Australia;
- one-way video interviewing, aimed at increasing the flexibility and convenience for applicants, and reducing the administrative burden on hiring managers; and
- providing ongoing education regarding an increased understanding of unconscious bias and conflict of interest processes.
While the AFP is still in the early stages of this journey, initial indications suggest that the deliberate actions being taken are having the desired impact. For example, the use of de-identified promotion/recruitment processes has seen the percentage of females who have progressed to the merit pool increase by up to 12 per cent.
Additionally, the representation of women in the AFP more broadly has increased from 35 per cent in 2016 to 38 per cent in 2019. This is particularly evident for the number of female sworn protective service officers which has seen a 64 per cent increase.
Since 2015, the AFP has seen a significant increase in female representation in leadership positions. In 2015, females held 24.1 per cent (80) of the executive positions in the AFP; in 2019 the females in leadership positions have increased to 33.6 per cent, that’s a total of 105 positions.
To ensure this momentum is maintained, and complements the work already underway, the AFP will engage a market researcher to develop future initiatives and a modern marketing and attraction strategy. The strategy will include measures to encourage more women to consider a career in the AFP, as the AFP takes further steps towards the former commissioner’s vision of an inclusive organisation that reflects the community it serves.
Luci Henson is the Manager People Strategies at the Australian Federal Police and a board member of the AHRI Public Sector Advisory Panel.