BEING a police officer has not always been what young girls aspire to be - but this is starting to change.

For International Women’s Day, Thames Valley Police is recognising the women of the force and wants people to understand that women can play a major role.

The force has steadily increased the number of women working as police officers, members of staff and police community support officers (PCSO).

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In 1989, women made up just 23 per cent of the workforce, now, they make up 45 per cent.

Sara Thornton took the lead in 2007 when she became the first female Chief Constable of the force.

Bhupinder Rai, the head of force CID Superintendent, is the first BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) woman to be in her role.

She joined the force in 1992 and has seen positive changes over the years.

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She said: “There were fewer women working for the force back then. The most difficult thing for me was not seeing many women in positions, especially senior positions and so I didn’t really have any role models to look up to.

“I would often walk into the room and be the only woman – I knew what was going through everyone’s minds - in those days we had to work harder, but now things are getting better.”

Mrs Rai leads the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) team in the Thames Valley region, including Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

She has had many roles and has moved up the ranks in the force over her 27-year career.

The mother-of-two said: “I remember having a conversation when I first started with my then Detective Inspector about which position I would be in in the future. I said I’d be a superintendent and here I am.

“There are more women in the force now than before but there is still work to be done, particularly with making sure women are moving up the ranks.”

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Mrs Rai said that the higher up the ranks you look, the fewer women in senior positions there are, and that misconceptions about what it is like being a police officer need to be challenged.

She said: “People think being a police officer is about rolling on the floor fighting and taking people down, but that’s only a small part of it – we deal with vulnerable people and there are many skills to learn and understand.”

Sixty-one per cent of staff at Thames Valley Police are women and 48 per cent of PCSOs are women too.

Departments such as IT, forensics and finance are now all led by women.

Caroline Cookson, the lead on recruitment marketing and employer brand at the force, said: “We now have strong role models and the force has come a long way. We want to ensure opportunities are open to women and that there aren’t any barriers.”