Back in 2006, Madeleine Albright gave a keynote speech to members of the WNBA in which she made the following declaration: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
When I first heard those words, I immediately thought them a bit harsh but now that I have 22 years of law enforcement experience, I have to come to understand the magnitude of the point that Albright was trying to convey.
When I started as a police cadet in my agency and as a sworn officer shortly thereafter, there were no female police officers that held a position of rank. During my tenure as an officer, my agency promoted its first female sergeant. Naturally, I was excited that my gender was represented in rank but I learned very quickly that she wasn’t as eager to be a mentor as I was to be her protégé.
This continued to be the theme with some of the other female officers in my agency. It started to become apparent to me that some women enjoyed being the sole female amongst their male colleagues and often found ways to keep other females down so as not to alter their proprietary position. It was sheer selfishness in basking in the role of the “only” female.
This is the group at whom I think Madeleine Albright was pointing when she delivered her now famous quotation.
As confusing as it was that females did not support other females, I understood some of the circumstances that perpetuated that mindset. For some, it stemmed from a place of scarcity versus abundance. Many agencies were forced into “furthering the interests of women” by forward thinking city government who felt pressured to promote a female or a minority or allow them into a specialized unit. This feeling of scarcity created a competition among women given that there weren’t many positions available to them.
Whatever the reason, it is intolerable to fail to provide support to someone who actively seeks it or to sabotage the efforts of progression out of self-interest. Despite my lack of female mentors, I was fortunate enough to find wonderful male mentors who supported me through my ascension in rank and who continue to mentor me to this day.
I was also fortunate to have stumbled across the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) during an internet search. It was at my first NAWLEE conference as a brand new sergeant that I realized that there were more women willing to help one another than those who were not. Through NAWLEE, I developed a network of successful women who offered emotional support as well as support through the technical aspects of my job.
I attribute my success to those who forged the path ahead of me and guided me. The only way I know how to pay those people back is to pay it forward and to help others who have high aspirations. It is very fitting that I serve NAWLEE in the way it has served me in my career.
No matter what your rank or position, you have an opportunity (and an obligation) to help the people around you succeed. And that should not be limited to your own gender or social group. The cream rises to the top. Period. Good leaders see things in others that they don’t necessary see in themselves. If you care deeply about your chosen profession, you should be cultivating future leaders who will carry the torch and further the mission.
After all, what is a life worth if it is not spent helping others?