Nottinghamshire’s Deputy Chief Constable Sue Fish has found herself in some sticky situations throughout almost 30 years with the police force.
From fighting crime to managing 4,000 staff and a £200m budget, Sue has achieved the highest rank of any current female officer in Nottinghamshire.
Back in 1986, when Sue first joined the police as a constable, only eight per cent of the county’s officers were women.
Today, the number of female officers is almost 600, which represents a significant improvement but according to Sue is ‘still not reflective of the 51 per cent female population of Nottinghamshire’.
However, the number of female officers who make up the senior ranks of inspector or above is only 27.
“Women today have access to every part of the force - and quite right too,” says Sue, from her office at force headquarters. “In Notts we have female officers throughout the ranks and leading specialist departments from forensics to public protection. This culture didn’t exist before. Thirty years ago you couldn’t even join up if you were married. I remember my first two nights on patrol and the officer I was put with didn’t speak to me all shift as he said it would get him into trouble with his wife. It was madness, but that was how it was.”
This might have created a stumbling block for Sue when she was starting out in her career but instead it just made her more determined to make her mark.
“It was a teacher from school who inspired me the most. He said I would have to work harder and be smarter if I wanted to succeed and I believe this to be the case,” adds Sue.
“This hasn’t changed over the years either because when female officers sit their qualifying exams for promotion a disproportionate amount do better than their male counterparts.”
Sue did not set out to aspire to such a high rank hoping to “make inspector before retiring” but this rank was achieved within just six years after Sue was fast tracked through the grades.
Her career journey has been riddled with hurdles along the way, challenges she has relished and battles fought and won both on the policing front line and in the boardrooms of authority.
During her career, Sue has worked in various police departments, with ACPO (Association of Police Officers), HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary), with the Metropolitan Police on special secondment and the West Midlands’ force giving her a broad level of experience. Alongside her high-flying career, Sue has somehow managed to have a family along the way. Photographs of her husband, James, and three grown-up children decorate the desk where Sue commands from, reminding her of what’s really important in life.
“My amazing husband, children and wider family have enabled me to get where I am,” says the proud new grandmother. “I feel they have allowed me to make choices rather than sacrifices.
“There is too much guilt put on working mums but my family have provided the necessary support and are proud of me.”
The 52 year-old is not just about self-success but has made it her mission to help pave the way for a smoother path for fellow women to tread in the future. Not only has Sue played a big part in the past by bringing part-time working to the police and flexible schedules but she is currently involved in a female focus group. It meets several times a year for employees to speak openly about their experiences in order to make any necessary changes.
“Women bring a richness and greater diversity to our organisation and we should value this to create a balanced team to serve our communities more effectively,” says Sue.
With a change to police contracts, officers could be working into their 50s and 60s which brings new challenges in managing an aging workforce.
“For the first time the force is having to consider the impact the menopause could have on our female officers,” Sue explains. “As a good employer we have to look how we can continue to deliver our policing business whilst understanding the changing needs of our female staff.”
You might imagine that getting to the top means Sue has never had any doubts about her ability or questioned her decisions but this is not the case.
“It took me a while to be comfortable to be who I am rather than follow a particular style of working. But it is about self-belief and inner confidence and realising it’s OK to be me.”