100 years of suffrage & women in public life – ICVA’s female perspective


February 6, 2018

  • board of directors
  • chief executive
  • chief operating officer
  • gender

This week marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote for the first time, although some women would wait a further decade for the right. The initial right to vote marked an early step in women’s role in public life.

ICVA’s Board of Directors has decided to mark this important milestone by inviting our female directors, staff, members and an ICV to write about what being a woman in public life means to them.

Natasha Plummer

Natasha is ICVA’s Vice Chair. She is the member director for the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC, covering London) and is also Head of Engagement for MOPAC. Natasha has a long career history of public service in the Metropolitan Police Authority and in local authorities in London.

As women and mothers we are well placed to lead by example for our children; the adults of the future. I teach my daughter everyday of the importance of everyone having a voice; woman, man, rich, poor. We can all do this in small ways. I have always taken her with me to the polling booth, for example.

Whoever you are, exercising your voice is a fundamental right and is also essential to ensuring diversity and inclusion for all. As women in public life we can make a difference to others, particularly in the male-dominated custody environment, by educating those around us about key issues that may fall outside of their personal experience; the issue of adequate sanitary protection for women in custody being a perfect case in point. We can also help create the right conditions for this by enabling and supporting others to have their say.

My advice to a female ICV, and to any woman in public life, would be remember who you are and that you can bring unique insights to any situation. In my experience this will most often be welcomed by others, so never be afraid to speak up.

Joanne Nicholls

Joanne is the Assurance and Policy Officer for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside. She is ICVA’s member director for Yorkshire and Humberside. She also acts as Company Secretary for ICVA, ensuring effective governance and oversight of the organisation.

It is difficult to believe that one hundred years has passed since the brave Suffragettes fought to give women a voice in public life.  Whilst we have a female Prime Minister, female Home Secretary and Chief of Metropolitan Police, etc., women still suffer inequality in terms of pay, senior level roles, in the criminal justice system, to name but a few. A true democracy cannot work unless its governing body has representation from all areas of society, including gender and race. It saddens me to think of women in countries around the world who still suffer untold inequality. There is a long way to go before the world becomes a fair and equal place for all.

I previously worked in the private sector and found that hard work was rewarded with the ability to progress through the ranks. However, in the public sector, I have found progression much more difficult. This can have a devastating effect on confidence and deter people from applying for promotion. It is vital that the workforce is equal and if more women could climb to managerial roles, I believe that they would bring a stronger element of empathy, compassion and concern for those around them into public life.

If I could advise females who have found themselves in police custody, I would try to help them to understand that difficult times do pass and that they can move on and change their situation…they must be brave, accept help and believe in themselves. All women have a special inner strength and resilience and we must all use this strength to stand up and be counted

…and I would show them my “words of encouragement” heart (featured image)!

Katie Kempen

Katie is ICVA’s Chief Executive, joining the organisation in 2015. Katie has spent her career in public service, initially in local government across the southeast of England before moving to Surrey Police Authority and later leading national work for victims’ services.

I have spent my career in community engagement – working with the public to design policy and services. Police custody is male dominated most of the time. My female colleagues and I bring our life experiences to the table – seeing things that others may not be aware of and understanding how they could impact on female detainees. I amplify the voices and feedback from ICVs to make sure that everyone is heard. Most recently, this has meant talking to roomfuls of men about different types of menstrual products and why one type does not suit all. It’s exciting to break down a taboo and improve services.  Conversely, it can also be distressing to see how women experience custody differently to men.  The service is often not designed with women in mind so it’s hugely important that ICVs, and ICVA, work with our partners to see where women suffer indignity and correct this.  It feels like there’s real support and critical mass behind this work, I hope that it makes a tangible difference to detainees.

I very much enjoy the support and encouragement that women give one another in public life. We are still usually a minority in decision-making bodies so a good female professional circle provides strength. My advice to woman in public life is to find a mentor who can help you to develop.

There are big challenges ahead and it is crucial that we look at how gender intersects with characteristics such as race, disability and faith. We need to nurture a diverse group of volunteers who can bring their understanding and experience to our work. This will help us to shape and change police custody to ensure that it gives every single detainee their dignity and delivers fairness.  Getting the vote was a seminal moment, and I often feel like I am standing on the shoulders of giants in my work.  We need to honour our suffrage by making further progress for a fair world, this is vital for the legitimacy of policing.

Sherry Ralph

Sherry is ICVA’s Chief Operating Officer, joining the organisation in 2016. Sherry has completed and implemented a review of ICVA’s training and membership offer, developed a members’ website and a quality assurance framework as well as training schemes on visiting terrorism detention. She has a history of working in and around prisons and criminal justice.

Throughout my working career I have consistently worked in predominantly male environments, from working in the licensed trade in pubs and off licences, through working in a Young Offenders Institute for young men, and several roles since where the gender balance has been heavier on the male side than the female. Therefore, I was very comfortable with having male peers, and being in male dominated environs.

It wasn’t until I began to manage a through the prison gates style support project for young women that I really began to think about the specific needs of women and girls in the criminal justice system and indeed my own gender in a working context. I have come to understand and consider the need for a distinct approach, not only in terms of the gender specific needs of the young women we supported, (issues around pregnancy, menstruation and terminations), but also in terms of the often very complex needs of women who were coming into contact with the CJS. With my current role in ICVA I am proud to have been involved in the massive piece of work we are undertaking to improve the conditions for sanitary protection for women and girls in custody.

Its struck me over the last couple of years and as my roles have changed and developed that not only should women have a distinct approach in terms of support and oversight, but also that the fact that we are having to campaign for basic human rights for women tells its own story. There are many women I admire in this sector and my life generally, and more increasingly I am delighted to be able to do something to help ensure that the gender balance is furthered, and to meet strong, inspiring and effective women who are making real changes. It’s a wonderful thing to reflect on at the time that celebrates 100 years since women got the vote, it’s incredible to think of those women who campaigned and the challenges they faced and I hope, in some small way that I am doing them proud.


Judith in an Independent Custody Visitor in Gloucestershire, she is also the co-ordinator for her Panel and takes a very active role in volunteering. She has had a long career in public life.

I worked in Gloucestershire Social Services in the Children & Families Team, visiting children in their homes to help improve parenting skills & to help parents on how to interact with their children, liaising with Family Centres to work with specific families who were experiencing problems.  I also ran Summer Play schemes at the two Family Centres in the area and around 16 years ago, obtained lottery funding to set up a HomeStart scheme.  This trains volunteers to visit families who are experiencing difficulties on a weekly basis and provide them with support and assistance.  I am pleased to say this has gone from strength to strength.  I was also a Gloucestershire magistrate for 22 years & upon retirement from the bench became an ICV. Being an ICV is challenging but also can be rewarding in highlighting any problems, maintaining the wellbeing of detainees & hopefully helps custody personnel fulfil a difficult role.

The best decisions & outcomes are made from balanced discussions between colleagues of both genders. I would actively encourage other females to voice areas of concern, to not to be afraid of having views & opinions, or to challenge the style of questioning detainees if you feel it is wrong.

Amanda Segelov

Amanda is a Criminal Justice Policy Officer in the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire. Alongside her colleague, Ruth, she manages the ICV scheme there and has a keen interest in all areas of criminal justice.

It’s hugely important that those in public service accurately reflect the society is trying to help and improve.  You can only get a thorough analysis of a situation if you include all those it affects. This was highlighted recently but the very public debate about sanitary protection in custody – for an issue that affects women to be effectively resolved, you need to involve and listen to women in the course of debate and decision-making.   Effective public life that affects change for the better should include all those who have a wealth of experience, knowledge and passion that can be tapped into to drive that change.

Myself and the other scheme manager, Ruth, have worked really hard since taking over the scheme nearly 12 months ago to engage better with our brilliant volunteers and to provide them with the support, training and numbers that they need to be an effective scheme.  Feedback from all our volunteers has been overwhelmingly positive, with a great recruitment campaign that has nearly doubled our numbers, increased our diversity of visitors and has increased our visits to nearly one per week, on an electronic based form.  This has led to much greater involvement and engagement from our PCC, the Constabulary and the volunteers themselves during our panel meetings and we are all keen to expand their work to be included on the OPCC Ethics Panel, spit guard demonstrations and we’re looking at including them in our review of use of force in custody.  We’re proud that it’s now a great scheme to be involved in, that’s working well and we’re continuing to aim high!

Katy Barrow-Grint

Katy is a Superintendent at Thames Valley Police where she is also Head of Criminal Justice, including custody.  Katy provides a police officer perspective of being a senior female in public life.

Equality is important in all aspects of life, and public life is no different. Everyone, no matter what gender, ethnicity or sexuality should have the ability, and indeed encouragement, to make themselves heard and ensure the values of fairness, integrity and trust are ingrained in public life.

For me, much of [what women bring to public life] it is not only about ensuring equality, fairness and representation, but also about being a role model – a role model for others in the organisation, the public and our children who will take the next generation forward in terms of innovation and change. I think that many people, but particularly women, juggle sometime conflicting priorities and it is important to see that with good help and support, being a senior representative in public life is achievable with other responsibilities such as being a parent.

It is true that there are more male detainees than females, and more male custody officers than female, but I do not think that is an issue if everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Professionalism is key and for my staff, gender is not a barrier to professional achievement or our responsibilities to the welfare of those detained.

I joined Thames Valley Police in 2000 having studied Sociology at the London School of Economics and developed an interest in crime and policing from my dissertation work on girl gangs. I have worked in a variety of role and ranks including uniform patrol, CID, neighbourhood policing, child abuse investigation, surveillance and strategic development.

As a Detective Chief Inspector, I oversaw the Oxfordshire Protecting Vulnerable People Unit, and introduced the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) into Oxfordshire. My domestic abuse team were the subject of the BBC1 documentary ‘Behind Closed Doors’ &  I have a keen academic interest in domestic abuse, having recently published an academic journal article on domestic abuse attrition rates.

More recently I worked on the project team to introduce a new Operating Model to front line Local Police Areas, and in 2017 I was promoted to Superintendent and am now Head of Criminal Justice for Thames Valley Police. In this role  I have encouraged the academic review of a pilot scheme to fast-track domestic abuse cases in the crown court by implementing a research project with Huddersfield University, the PCC’s office, the CPS and Aylesbury Crown Court. I am keen to join academic research with operational policing and the criminal justice system and see the value of both academics and police officers and staff working together.

My academic interest amplified when I completed my Masters in Police Leadership and Management at Warwick Business School in 2015. I was keen to develop the Force’s understanding of the academic work being completed by officers and staff, and as a result,  I have instigated the ‘TVP Journal’. I am really pleased that TVP will now have a fantastic gateway to recognise the academic work of its officers and staff, and there is significant national interest in the journal which will encourage other forces to progress similarly.

Having only recently joined Criminal Justice I actually knew very little about ICVA or custody visiting when I first started. Through the power of Twitter I was introduced to Katie Kempen the ICVA CEO and a couple of days before our first meeting she asked me if instead of meeting for a coffee, would I accompany her to talk on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour about women detainees in custody and the provision of sanitary ware. Although very nervous, I jumped at the opportunity and had a fabulous morning at the BBC in London being interviewed with Katie by Jenny Murray. This gave me the opportunity to highlight the good work that is being done by Thames Valley Police, and other forces to ensure all women in custody are treated with dignity and respect and I have continued to be vocal about the matter, contributing recently to a Policing Professional magazine article on the subject. I am proud that I am able to support an ICVA with this important work, which will ensure a legacy of improvement nationally.

It is only recently when two members of staff separately told me that I was a role model to them did I realise that I have a significant impact now in my role and rank to help and support others, whatever their gender, and that I also have the opportunity to change the future of those I come into contact with. Chief Superintendent John Sutherland from the Met Police (also known as @policecommander on Twitter) recently came to TVP to present on his battle with depression and mental health issues, and part of his presentation focussed on Locard’s principle that every contact leaves a trace. This is true for all of us in everything that we do, and so I think it is extremely important that any contact is as positive as it can be, and I hope I make a positive impact on everyone I meet.

I would obviously like to see an improvement in the gender split in policing. It is fabulous that the current heads of the Met Police, the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chief Council are all Women, but this needs to be replicated with further equality of gender throughout the ranks.

[My words of advice for female ICVs and staff is that] you are all role models. Every contact you have leaves a trace so make that contact positive. Challenge where necessary but help make improvements as well. Seek advice and mentoring from others to help you progress and learn, and always keep considering the vulnerability of those you are dealing with – you have a very important role and just one conversation can make a significant difference in someone’s life.