The introduction of women officers into HM Prison Service raised questions regarding women's ability to perform what had traditionally been a male role. Existing research is inconclusive as to whether female prison officers are as competent as male prison officers, and whether there are gender differences in job performance. This study examined prisoners' perceptions of male and female prison officers' performance.
The hypotheses were that overall competence and professionalism ratings would not differ for men and women officers, but that there would be differences in how men and women were perceived to perform their roles. Women were expected to be rated as more communicative, more empathic and less disciplining.
The Prison Officer Competency Rating Scale (PORS) was designed for this study. Ratings on the PORS for male and female officers were given by 57 adult male prisoners.
There was no significant difference in prisoners' ratings of overall competence of men and women officers. Of the PORS subscales, there were no gender differences in Discipline and Control, Communication or Empathy, but there was a significant difference in Professionalism, where prisoners rated women as more professional.
The failure to find any differences between men and women in overall job competence, or on communication, empathy and discipline, as perceived by prisoners, suggests that men and women may be performing their jobs similarly in many respects. Women were rated as more professional, and items contributing to this scale related to respecting privacy and keeping calm in difficult situations, where there may be inherent gender biases. Copyright © 2005 Whurr Publishers Ltd.