Windsor, Ont. police Chief Pam Mizuno remembers there were about 30 women officers in the force when she first started 26 years ago.
Often, when she went out on patrol with her platoon, she'd be the only female officer working the shift.
"So the role models were few and far between, but they were there," she said Wednesday, in a rare broadcast interview with Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette. "But the numbers were low."
"I don't think there's any question that there was an old boys network then," she said. "There could be some perception that there's an old boys club still." But, she added, "policing...has changed over the years. We really have come a long way."
According to Statistics Canada's latest data on police resources across the country, which analyzed data from 2018, 17 per cent of the 426 officers with the Windsor Police Service (WPS) are women.
In fact, WPS has one of the lowest percentages of women officers, when compared to police forces across Canada.
Mizuno — appointed to lead Windsor's police force in October 2019, and the city's first-ever woman police chief — acknowledged the WPS can do a better job of achieving gender balance among its officers, adding the service has already taken steps to recruit more women.
"We have several officers, both male and female, in the service that are working hard to change those numbers," she said. "We have increased the percentage of females within the service and we're going to continue to work at those numbers to be reflective of our community."
Among those officers tasked with diversifying the force is Const. Yvonne Ouimet, whose role with the WPS is focused on recruitment and training.
"My role is to continue the chief's mission in recruiting and diversifying both females and males and making us an attractive employer for these communities," Ouimet said, in the same Windsor Morning interview. "I'll find new ways to build those relationships with those communities and encourage them to apply with us."
Ouimet said attracting more women to policing and attracting a more diverse pool of applicants begins with reaching out to centres in the community, including churches, high schools, colleges and universities.
Watch police chief Pam Mizuno's and Const. Yvonne Ouimet's interview with Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette on Facebook:
Among the strategies to connect Windsor's police force with the community is the Values, Influences and Peers (VIP) program, introduced in 1985, where officers visit schools and speak with Grade 6 students.
"The VIP is a big resource for us," said Ouimet. "A lot of people who apply with us said they first became attracted to policing through VIP."
Despite progress made over the years, however, Mizuno said it's still difficult attracting women to policing.
"We're getting there, but it's going to take some time," she said.
Ouimet added that hints of the old boys club mentality can also be intimidating.
"When you go into an environment where there's a majority of males, it's intimidating for females," she said.
Still, Ouimet said newer, younger recruits are more open to working alongside women.
"The youth that we are hiring, they've come to expect and know that females are part of the work environment," she said. "Their moms worked, so there's a change in how they view women and where they view women working."
Mizuno pointed out that there are women working in "almost every single unit and branch" within her organization, with one exception.
"The only unit where women have not been members has been the emergency services unit — our tactical unit," she said. "But other than that, we have women on every single unit and branch in the service, which is a huge difference from when I first started."
Listen to police chief Pam Mizuno's and Const. Yvonne Ouimet's interview with Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette:
Mizuno also acknowledged her responsibility as a woman in the role of police chief, especially when it comes to being a role model for young women.
"It really is a huge responsibility, but I'm going to work really hard to live up to their expectations and our community's expectations," she said.
Mizuno said she hopes and believes that at some point, the conversation about gender diversity will no longer be necessary.
"Our goal is to try and get there," she said. "Throughout the remainder of my career and I know throughout the remainder of [Ouimet's] career, we'll both work really hard to achieve that goal."