There was a time in America when opportunities for working women were very limited. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, women were welcomed as secretaries, teachers, flight attendants and seamstresses but discussion of promotion, equal pay and managerial roles often fell on deaf ears.
Fast-forward to today.
The 19 million female workers that had full-time jobs in 1964 grew to 46 million by the end of 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And, the median salary for women last year was 82 percent of what men earned – a number that rose from 62 percent in 1979.
Women making 80 cents to every dollar a man earns is far from perfect but the trend is certainly moving in the right direction. And if you’re a woman in law enforcement, earning a criminal justice degree could be the most direct path to your next promotion and the difference between success or failure in the field.
“Candidates with a college degree are very attractive candidates for any law enforcement organization,” says Drew Evans, assistant superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “[Criminal justice] programs teach valuable critical thinking and reasoning skills that are critical to our law enforcement officers.”
Women earning millions more degrees than men
It’s a well-known trivia tidbit that U.S. women graduate from college at a higher rate than men. But what’s less well-known is that over the last 20 years women have earned 9.1 million more college degrees – across all subjects and degree levels – than their male counterparts.
In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics showed that in 2012 women earned 61.7 percent of all associate’s degrees; 56.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees; 59.6 percent of master’s degrees; and 52.1 percent of all doctorate degrees.
And when you’re talking about criminal justice – an industry that is traditionally male-dominated – coursework and skills training are only part of the process, says Emily Little, School of Justice Studies program coordinator at Rasmussen College.
“I would say that educated women entering the workforce have more confidence than ever,” she says. “Women today enter the [criminal justice] field without a doubt that they are just as qualified to succeed as men.”
A criminal justice degree can also open doors that would otherwise be locked.
Retired probation supervisor Suzanne Lewis began working in a juvenile detention facility in Kern County (Calif.) with an associate degree but earned a bachelor's degree to move herself up the ladder.
“With the BS degree I was able to move from the institution to field work and to gain promotions as a supervisor in both arenas,” Lewis says. “With a Master's degree the doors would open to include promotions all the way up to chief probation officer.”
A place for YOU in the law enforcement hierarchy
Lola G. Baldwin became America’s first-ever policewoman in 1908 and, in doing so, became the first true pioneer in the field of criminal justice. History is filled with other great stories.
President Barack Obama picked Julia Pierson to lead the U.S. Secret Service in 2013; Kamala Harris was sworn in as California’s attorney general in 2011; Sonia Sotomayor became associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009; and Penny Harrington became the first female police chief in 1985.
These women, and thousands of others like them, have inspired generations of future female officers and helped women across the industry see themselves as equals, Little says.
According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, women are flourishing in the field of law enforcement. As of 2011, women make up:
9,656 firefighters (3.4 percent of total)
117,015 bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers (27 percent)
37,224 detectives and criminal investigators (26 percent)
110,670 police and sheriff’s patrol officers (16 percent)
206,298 security guards and gaming surveillance officers (22 percent)
89,011 lifeguards and other protective service workers (53 percent)
The statistics show that women clearly play an integral role in the criminal justice system, but the percentages aren’t as high as they could be. “We have made great strides in increasing the number of women [in law enforcement],” Evans says. “But there is still room to grow the numbers of women choosing to pursue a career.”
It’s easy to get frustrated at your current situation. Maybe you’re doing your boss’s job without recognition or you’ve been passed over for promotion several times. Maybe you’ve heard law enforcement is a man’s world and that you’ll never succeed.
Well, don’t give up. All of the BLS statistics show a direct correlation between education and salary.
And earning a degree in criminal justice is a great way to show current and future law enforcement organizations that you’re ready to move up the ladder ... with them or without them.
For more information about careers in criminal justice, download our Criminal Justice Career Guide.