On International Women’s Day (March 8), new OPCC Chief Executive Polly Reed outlines her personal experiences of working life and the welcome she has received since joining Warwickshire in January.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello, my name is Polly, and I took up the role of Chief Executive to the Police and Crime Commissioner, here in Warwickshire, in January of this year. I’ve come to this role from the West Midlands PCC’s office, which was my first role in policing, which has captivated me from the day I arrived (I was an army child too). I am highly committed to public service, and love the busy-ness and variety of each day at work, and I relish the challenges that this Chief Executive role brings.
I am passionate about enabling people to be their best selves at work in a way that fits in with the rest of their lives. Although I am full time now; my last job was a job-share and I am ever grateful that I was able to work in a senior role part time before my children all went to school. I have 3 children, who are 8, 7 and 5 – Rosie, Georgina and Benjamin. My husband has an equally demanding role, and we really do work as a team to make sure everything happens when it should at home. It does help that we are not very good at relaxing I think!! We also have a lot on out of work, and are active in our local church, as well as keeping the children entertained with cycling, swimming and camping. We are in that age group where we also have elderly parents to worry about – my father has dementia and has just about recovered from being very unwell after getting covid in his care home.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s day is a day to celebrate all the wonderful things about women. Every year it makes me stop and think – about those who do not have the great blessings that we do, those whose basic needs are not met, about those in difficult or terrible situations, and about those before us who fought for the rights that we take for granted. As my children get older it is important to me to talk about these things to them – to the girls to enable them to be who they want to be, and to my son to ensure he grows up understanding his role in this too.
But for me it is not just about women, it is about diversity, and celebrating each other. It is about respecting that your way is not the only way, and that other people can offer a unique and rich viewpoint to contribute to a project or discussion. Every year it reminds me to value others, and especially others who are not like me, and who see the world differently to how I do.
You are the first female Warwickshire OPCC Chief Exec and currently the only one in the West Midlands region. Do you think a gender balance at the top of organisations is important?
I think it is vital. I think organisations grow from having a variety of skills and abilities brought together from different experiences and standpoints. The best teams are those with individuals from all walks of life, and nowhere is this more important than in public service. How can we represent the public if we don’t represent them?
As noted I am the first female OPCC Chief Executive, but I am also the only female in the regional governance arrangements with PCC’s and Chief Constables. A number of those roles are up for grabs soon – if anyone wants to join me there?
From a leadership perspective it is also important. People need to see that their values are relevant, and that they are represented. They need to know what people like them can achieve.
The analysis actually shows that the Warwickshire OPCC has more women than men – and women are active at all levels. A shout out at this point to the fantastic Treasurer, Sara Ansell, who is also a senior woman in policing.
What do you think are some of the barriers for women in the workplace and how do you think managers can support their staff to overcome (or remove!) those?
The traditional barriers cited tend to be things like childcare, flexible hours and latterly a focus on women’s issues such as the impact of the menopause. While these are undoubtedly important, I am also interested in the cultural aspects and how we can empower our workforce and the women within it as individuals to succeed.
I think one of the most important skills in any organisation is strong leadership and good communication. Many barriers can be addressed and overcome with a can-do problem solving attitude, but often individuals lack the skills or confidence to address them. Managers should know and champion workplace rights, and enable staff to be able to share their problems and offer up their own solutions.
When I arrived in this role I had been told that Warwickshire Police is family friendly, so in week 1, I spent some time looking for evidence – and I found it. Processes and policies are all there, the framework is set, but I don’t yet have a measure of how well it is used (write to me and tell me!).
In my view small things that everyone can do include:
- listening to others and respecting their views. Amplify the voices of those who might not be heard (for example: “Yes, Julie that is a great idea”)
- giving positive feedback to a job well-done – specific and timely feedback is always better than just – “well done”. Tell colleagues what you liked when they did it, just after they did it.
- respecting non-work commitments that others have in their life – not just around caring responsibilities or ill health, but enabling people to look after their wellbeing – eg leaving work on time to get to yoga.
My husband also works compressed hours – I think this is great for him – as a role model at work, as a role model for the children, and to get to spend time with them without me around too.
What do you think is one of the most positive things that has happened for women this year and why?
This question has been quite difficult to answer. I need to declare that I am a glass-half-full individual, and I find it easy to focus on the positives, but all my answers come from a place of enormous privilege, which is tone-deaf in the unequal world we live in.
I guess my hope is that this year has taught us all that we are all made up of many roles and feelings which are brought together to be a whole. We are workers, parents and children, friends, colleagues and neighbours. We are happy or anxious, lonely or peaceful, energetic or frenetic. If we can accept these roles in others we might all coexist more easily. This is an issue of diversity, but one which could offer great gains for women, particularly women in the workplace.
If you could give one message to other women (and everyone, really) today what would that be?
Have confidence. Whatever you do, whatever your role is – step into it. Don’t sabotage yourself with self doubt. One tip that I have used in the past is to identify someone whose work I admire and say “what would XX do?” “would they be agonising about this?” “would they lie awake and worry about how to do this? no – they would just get on and do it.
Finally – I’d also like to say thank you to all who have been part of a very warm welcome I have received to this role. Many have taken the time to talk me through their work area and answer many questions, but I still have plenty to learn. This is an open invite to anyone in Warwickshire Police to drop me an email and tell me about something they are proud of or that is important to them.
Polly Reed, OPCC Chief Executive