Quick Take: 6 steps to leadership success for female officers

In a recent webinar, Ret. Col. Brenda Dietzman provided examples of what can impede or enhance promotional opportunities


By Suzie Ziegler

A recent webinar hosted by the Justice Clearinghouse aimed to tackle an urgent deficiency in law enforcement – developing women leaders.

The webinar, led by Ret. Col. Brenda Dietzman, who in 2015 became the first female undersheriff of Sedgewick County, Kansas, provided examples of what can impede or stimulate promotion.

Ret. Col. Brenda Dietzman is a speaker who has over 28 years of law enforcement experience. (Photo/Brenda Dietzman via Facebook)
Ret. Col. Brenda Dietzman is a speaker who has over 28 years of law enforcement experience. (Photo/Brenda Dietzman via Facebook)

During the webinar, Dietzman pointed out that although more women are joining law enforcement, very few are rising through the ranks. She opened by discussing the Heidi Rozen study, which concluded that success and likeability are positively correlated for men but negatively correlated for women. When two groups were presented with identical profiles of two successful venture capitalists – but with one named Heidi and the other Howard – participants of the Heidi group used negative language to describe her character. By comparison, participants found Howard to be admirable.

Throughout the webinar, Dietzman discussed how unconscious biases and behaviors can curtail a woman’s path to leadership – and what to try instead.

Three things women should stop doing

1. Negative self-talk

It’s a common saying: You’re your own worst critic. Dietzman said negative self-talk can stand in the way of progress. If you start to criticize yourself or put yourself down, Dietzman suggested asking, "Would a friend say that?" Another suggestion is to name your inner critic so that the voice is easier to disregard.

2. Softening speech

Some women intentionally or unintentionally soften their speech to not sound too demanding. But leaders need to be assertive. Instead of asking, “I was just wondering if you had a moment to talk?” say, “Do you have a moment to talk?”

This goes hand-in-hand with apologizing, something Dietzman said women tend to do much more of than men – even when there’s nothing to apologize for. Don’t say “sorry” as a transition word or filler if there’s nothing to apologize for. If you’re interrupting a working colleague with a request, don’t say, “Sorry to interrupt, I have a question.” Instead, jump straight into your request, “I have a question for you.”

3. Feeling like an imposter

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern characterized as an inability to give due credit to your accomplishments combined with a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud,” said Dietzman. It’s something both men and women can feel, but Dietzman said it disproportionately affects women in the workplace.

This isn’t something everyone will just be able to “shake off,” but Dietzman outlined some tips to mitigate the feelings of imposter syndrome. She suggested first understanding that a lot of people feel this way. Second, realize and own what you’ve achieved – don’t minimize your accomplishments. Third, learn to – both figuratively and literally – pat yourself on the back for a job well done. And lastly, Dietzman said a “fake it ‘till you make it strategy” could be beneficial. Embody your successes and accomplishments, even if it feels fake at first. Eventually, it won’t feel fake anymore.

Three things women should start doing

1. Confident body language & speak up

This is all about making yourself bigger and louder. Dietzman said some women tend to make themselves physically smaller in public spaces, like crossing their legs and putting their hands in their laps. Instead, Dietzman said that by physically making yourself larger you can work a positive effect on confidence. She suggested trying “power posing” – think: hands on hips, wide stance – and practicing open postures.

Along the same vein, Dietzman suggested making yourself more verbally noticeable as well. She said it is important to seize opportunities when you have a seat at the table – literally. Next time you’re in a conference room, instead of standing along the perimeter or sitting in a second-row chair, choose a seat at the table – this gives you a more visible and workable position.

While important for women to choose a seat at the table, Dietzman said it’s equally important for supervisors to make an invitation.

2. Get a mentor (you deserve one)

Mentor relationships can be invaluable when it comes to succeeding as a leader. According to Dietzman, women are less likely to have a mentor and get feedback from a supervisor.

3. Believe you’re ready

According to Dietzman, most women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100% of the criteria. Men will apply if they think they meet 60% of the requirements. The solution, Dietzman says, is a shift in thinking. Don’t think, “I’m not ready to do that.” Think instead, “I want to do that, and I’ll learn by doing that.”

For supervisors, Dietzman cautioned them to make sure job requirements are real requirements, not a wish list.

NEXT: Roundtable: Leadership development for female officers

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