How I went from being called ‘plonk’ to top cop and helped other women along the way


Today thousands of women marched through London to celebrate 100 years of female officers in the Metropolitan Police.

Together they represented years of fighting for equality within the force – enduring name-calling, balancing family life and speaking out against discriminatory policies.

One woman who has helped pave the way is retired Chief Superintendent Joanna Young, who first joined the Met Police in 1984, aged 19.

At that time women were only expected to last four years in the job and were commonly referred to as ‘Plonks’ (Person with Little Or No Knowledge) or ‘Dorises’ by their male colleagues.

‘The majority of the men I worked with were protective in a paternal way, even if my age or only a bit older,’ she told

‘They could be patronising and would say things like “oh you don’t want to be doing that!” and I would have to keep saying, “no I do want to!”

‘But then once during a patrol in Soho at around 2am, a drunk came along and grabbed my crotch.

‘I immediately turned around, grabbed him and arrested him. But when we got back to the police station my colleagues all thought it was funny.

‘If that happened now it would be indecent assault but they all kept saying, “so what, he’s a drunk!” I remember being really upset about it.’

She added that if there was ever a child involved in a case, it was generally expected that she would help out.

‘These were are men, who are dads and actually have more experience with children than me,’ she said.

Joanna said any sexism mostly stemmed from unconscious but ‘honestly held beliefs’ rather than intentional nastiness from her colleagues – and while individual instances were ‘more common’, it was discrimination within police policy that could be ‘really painful’.

In the past, pregnant police officers were forced to resign completely and would have to reapply if they wanted to later rejoin the force.

While things had vastly improved during her career, Joanna, then a Chief Inspector, became locked in a fierce battle over maternity pay after becoming pregnant with her third child in 1999.

‘If you came back from maternity leave early, you would lose the rest of it,’ she explained

‘I wanted to do a training course and see my team before going off again. If I didn’t do the course I wouldn’t be able to go for a promotion the next year.

‘I told them, you’re discriminating against me and they fought me on it.’

She added: ‘At one point I rang up the Equal Opportunities Department and explained everything to a man who then said: “Yes but you should be at home with your child”. I went berserk!

‘I took out a grievance and was getting more upset and angry as it went on. It did go on and on.

‘I remember coming off the phone from police solicitors and crying to my husband, saying “I can’t do this anymore, I’m going to drop it”.

‘But then one minute later I would find myself coming back into the room saying “but I can’t! I can’t leave it!”’

In October 2000, Joanna got called to the Deputy Assistant Commissioner’s office, where she was apologised to and told that the policy surrounding maternity leave would be changing nationally as a result of her case.

It was a bittersweet victory – as the mother-of-three said the force’s year of ‘defending the indefensible’ meant she missed out on spending time with her newborn son.

But Joanna said she loved being a part of the Met and had a ‘fabulous career’ before retiring in 2015.

‘I am proud to have just been in policing and to have, even if just fractionally, made it better for the people who came after me,’ she said.

I think each generation leaves something positive for the one after it and paves the way for someone else.

‘The very first woman who fought to allow women in policing allowed me to have career I had today.’

There is no doubt her victories have made policing even better for current female officers, like Superintendent Louise Puddefoot, who joined in 2001.

The 41-year-old works in the Specialist Firearms Command and is in charge of training, recruitment and all HQ functions – allowing her to ‘bust the myth’ that women don’t belong.

Her experience has already differed greatly from Joanna’s. She explained that pregnant officers now undergo a risk assessment before being placed in ‘appropriate and meaningful roles’ and remain entitled to their original position when they return from maternity leave.

While 104 women have applied to join the Special Firearms Command, with Louise insisting that female officers are ‘more than capable’ of getting stuck in alongside their male colleagues.

‘There is a much greater female ratio in the Met now, but some jobs need more effort because of the nature of the work,’ she said.

‘Firearms is physically demanding, it involves carrying a firearm, it has historically attracted more men. What we are saying to female officers is that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

‘If you want to do it and you put in the training, we won’t give you free ticket. You’ve got to pass the assessment, you’ve got to be just as good as your colleagues. But yes, you can certainly do it.’

Louise, who will be working as a silver commander for the women’s march, has enjoyed a remarkable and varied career, starting out in a response team in Peckham.

She now trains all armed commands, including parliamentary, diplomatic and royal protection and says her proudest moments have come from working in public order policing,

‘I’ve been deployed in protests with people throwing pyrotechnics at us and marching in the street,’ she said.

‘To be in charge and to be in command of sometimes hundreds of police officers and coordinating a proportionate response, it makes you feel incredible at the end.

‘I have a sector at Notting Hill carnival. At the end of the two days when your officers are exhausted and lying on the floor and you’ve all done 15 hour days, you think – we’ve cracked this.

‘A year of planning and we’ve done it, we’re all going home and it’s gone well. You just can’t beat that feeling.

‘Those kinds of jobs that make me feel proud because you can see the impact is it having on London.’