There can be few more inspiring duos to shine a light on this International Women’s Day than Sgt Sandra Smith and Positive Action & CQ Coordinator and Cultural Intelligence Lead Sam Alexander who both work for Bedfordshire Police.
When not fighting crime, Sandra and Sam are dedicated to empowering underrepresented women across Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire (BCH) and helping give them support in their policing careers.
As Black women of Afro-Caribbean heritage, Sam and Sandra know only too well the challenges of surviving and thriving in what has historically been a White male-dominated environment.
Due to their first-hand experiences of climbing the policing ladder, Sandra made the bold decision in 2021 to form a movement called Women of Colour in Policing (WoCiP), with Sam joining later the same year.
WoCiP BCH is committed to improving representation, development, progression, and retention of women from ethnic minority communities at all levels of policing. In their words, the movement was created to give women of colour the “courage and confidence to be seen and heard” in order to succeed.
WoCiP BCH has helped to land the Becoming Career Ready programme in collaboration with Becoming International.
This is a ground-breaking tri-force development programme for female colleagues from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Of the 37 women who have complete the programme to date, six have secured promotions, while a further four have reversed decisions to leave policing altogether.
Open to women at any stage of their policing careers, WoCiP BCH prioritises support for women whose first language is not English, given the additional barriers they face regarding career progression.
Apart from supporting women on their mentoring programmes, Sam and Sandra have formed partnerships with various universities to inspire women of colour and encourage them to policing as a desirable career. They also work with community elders and leaders to create change and cohesion, oversee viral social media campaigns, work with their Young WoCiP influencers on TikTok, support the work of Male Violence Against Women and Girls (MVAWG), and hold Listening Circles in the community. This engagement is helping to shape policy, garnering high-profile plaudits and supporters along the way.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable of Trevor Rodenhurst and Detective Chief Superintendent of the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit Julie Henderson are WoCiP BCH sponsors and are both vocal supporters of the movement’s work. WoCiP BCH is also supported by a wide network of volunteers across BCH as well as allies who are both internal and external to policing.
In 2022, the movement was named inclusion and diversity initiative of the year at the national Inspire Justice Awards. These awards celebrate and shine a light on the wider workforce that keeps the criminal justice system running smoothly.
Despite the rapid growth of what the dynamic duo insist will remain a local “grassroots movement”, Sam admits that beginning the work of WoCiP BCH was a struggle. However, through perseverance, they have overcome many barriers and will continue to do so.
Thanks to Sam and Sandra’s energy and tenacity, word has quickly spread about the movement with more and more people, forces, and organisations reaching out to WoCiP BCH.
“No one is hard to reach – we just weren’t listening enough,” says Sandra, as she reflects on WoCiP BCH’s early beginnings.
But what next for the dynamic duo? Their immediate attention is turned to 8 March International Women’s Day and its theme of #EmbracingEquity. Following on from their first International Women’s Day event in 2022, which attracted over 200 people, Sam and Sandra are going bigger and better this year with their 2023 strapline being #GoHarderGoStrongerOrGoHome.
Longer term, plans are afoot to develop a career progression programme, and WoCiP BCH is working with SFJ Awards to give those who successfully complete their mentoring programme an industry-recognised certificate that documents their learning.