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Revamping police recruitment: A strategic shift toward inclusivity and diversity

A new guide outlines actionable strategies to enhance recruitment websites, targeting barriers that deter women from policing careers

Happy police woman

Even though agencies have made progress on addressing issue that discourage women from the field, this progress is often not communicated effectively on recruitment websites.

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By Jenn Rineer, Ph.D., and Travis Taniguchi

As recruitment and retention issues continue to plague law enforcement agencies, agency leaders must undertake efforts to appeal to a wider pool of potential applicants. One area where law enforcement agencies can make considerable strides is in the recruitment of women officers. Women make up only 12% of sworn officers and could be a valuable source of new recruits.

To capitalize on this opportunity, it is essential for agencies to rethink how they present themselves to potential recruits. Strategies recommended to increase the recruitment of women into policing careers include the development and implementation of family-friendly policies and reducing bias found in many traditional physical fitness tests.

Unfortunately, even though agencies have made progress on addressing issue that discourage women from the field, this progress is often not communicated effectively on recruitment websites. This does a disservice to agencies because research indicates a direct link between recruitment language, such as addressing women-relevant topics like work–life balance policies, and interest in policing careers. By fostering inclusivity and explicitly addressing concerns, agencies can work towards increasing the number of diverse applicants, helping to address staffing needs and strengthen their workforce.

To address this issue, RTI International and the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) conducted a comprehensive research review and identified five principles that should guide your agency’s recruitment website:

  1. Reduce ambiguity about the application process.
  2. When in doubt, more information is better than less.
  3. Ensure that media (photos, videos, etc.) match the overall goal and content of the pages, and that language is aligned with policies and practices.
  4. Review website content, including policies, procedures and contact information, to ensure consistency across pages.
  5. Facilitate contact between potential applicants and agency recruiters. Provide multiple avenues for contact including in-person and virtual options.

Within these key principles, a recruiting website should directly address the seven key barriers that dissuade applicants from pursuing a career in law enforcement:

  1. Concerns over the (in)ability to pass fitness evaluations.
  2. Belief that there are limited opportunities for advancement.
  3. Perceptions that officers cannot establish a healthy work-life balance.
  4. Apprehension that the career will negatively impact their safety, health, and wellness.
  5. Concerns about potential harassment and sexism from coworkers.
  6. Doubts over belonging or fitting in to the organizational culture.
  7. General distrust of the police or concerns about police-community relationships.

Our recently released guide (see below) provides clear instructions and examples on how to address each of these challenges. Download the guide here and learn more about efforts to improve recruiting women into the policing profession at


This work was supported by the National Institute of Justice (grant number 2019-R2-CX-0027). The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute of Justice, Department of Justice.

Want to learn more? Watch the video below to find out how the 30x30 Initiative aims to increase the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30 percent by 2030:

About the authors

Jenn Rineer, Ph.D., is an expert in the health, wellbeing and performance of employees and organizations. As director of the Workforce Wellbeing and Effectiveness Program in RTI International’s Justice Practice Area, she applies her expertise in organizational psychology and occupational health to workplace surveys, interview and focus group research, employee trainings, evaluations and experimental studies in policing. Her research focuses on recruitment and retention, worker health, job-related stress, and diversity and inclusion, and she leads multiple DOJ-funded projects to understand and improve police experiences in these areas.

Travis Taniguchi is a research criminologist. His research focuses on program and policy evaluation in areas such as crime prevention, the health and wellness of law enforcement officers, and recruiting and retention in public service careers.