Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Robert L. Infantino, EdD, Chair; Kenneth Gonzalez, PhD, Member; Conrad Rutkowski, PhD, Member; Mary Woods Scherr, PhD, Member


chief of police, discrimination, gender, glass ceiling, law enforcement, Leadership studies, police departments, women


Law enforcement is one of the last male-dominated occupations. Out of 18,000 police departments in the United States, only 200 to 250 have women chiefs. Such under-representation reflects the "glass ceiling" effect of a gender-based metaphorical barrier that prevents women from rising to the top of an organization, regardless of qualifications. The research examined three questions: what are the issues and problems articulated by women officers attempting to move upwards; what strategies were employed as they attempted to advance; and what strategies could help other women reach the top? Nine female primary participants in law enforcement leadership were interviewed, as were six male police chiefs and two other women in high ranks. Seven barriers to advancement were identified: double standard, old boys club, queen bee, disloyalty, personal traits, race, and recruitment procedures. Six advancement strategies were suggested: mentoring, commitment, job competence, education, reputation, and work/life balance. The study analyzed the barriers and strategies for advancement and the methods proposed for overcoming each barrier. The most compelling finding was that each participant exhibited a strong, resilient personality. Their leadership style is characterized by extreme confidence and indisputable assurance, balanced by awareness and acceptance of the operative political climate. The study indicates that some women in law enforcement engaged in a form of denial of the victimization they experienced. It also indicates a contrast between the women's perspectives and those of the male chiefs. The statistics on the progress women have made as well as the experiences these participants lived dramatize the lack of advancement of women as law enforcement executives. The study suggests that when women finally reach the top, they frequently encounter a "rubber ceiling" resulting in their failure or sudden departure. Considering the numbers of women in law enforcement and the time women have been employed, there are fewer women in chief level positions than would be expected. Legal action through court-ordered affirmative action like consent decrees, frequently the catalyst for meaningful social equality, may be useful in creating the change needed for gender equality in the law enforcement field.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access