Exploring challenges for women in public safety in the #MeToo era

Former FBI agent, SEPTA spokeswoman and podcaster Jerri Williams will be speaking at the Women in Public Safety conference.
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent and SEPTA spokeswoman who is now a writer and podcaster, will be speaking at a Women's Day conference on women in public safety. (Courtesy of JerriWilliams.com)

There aren't a lot of women in the FBI — the figure is estimated to be around 19 percent.

 

As for black women, the figure is a lot smaller, estimated at less than 1 percent.

 

So as a black woman who spent 26 years in the FBI, Jerri Williams knows plenty about the struggles women face every day.

 

"When you're trying to make a name for yourself and create a positive reputation in a job where there are very few women, you know that you have the responsibility of saying and doing things that are going to help other women come behind you," said Williams, who will be speaking at UPenn this week for the Philadelphia Fire Department's second annual International Women's Day Conference on Women in Public Safety. "That's a scary, scary thing."

 

After leaving the FBI, where she worked on corruption and financial crimes, Williams worked at SEPTA for seven years, retiring from her position as director of communications in 2015. Williams is currently on a new path as a successful podcaster and author. Her podcast, FBI Retired Case File Review, in which she interviews retired fellow agents about high-profile cases, has attracted listeners nationally. She is at work on her second novel.

But while Williams has seen progress, she said there is still a long ways to go. She has heard there's only one black woman agent at the FBI's Philadelphia office (the office did not immediately respond to requests for comment).

"Times are even more difficult, with #MeToo, now that women are being told, 'It's time to speak up,'" she said. "A woman, especially in a nontraditional job, a firefighter or police officer, if something were to happen to her, she's going to feel that extra pressure. … But the support system needs to be there, ready and willing to help these women. If that hasn't changed, it's just self-sacrifice."

Getting to a support system that can help enact meaningful change may take some time, but Williams seems optimistic that society can get there.

"Everything is not peachy keen and universally wonderful yet," she said. "It's brave to talk about something you've hidden for years and years, but it does not compare to someone going through it now, and afraid of the immediate consequences of sharing that information. That's when we're going to see where this movement is taking us."

Other speakers at the Women in Public Safety conference include Battalion Chief Linda Long, the Philadelphia Fire Department's first female fire chief, City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of EMS Crystal Yates and Dr. Felice J. Tulin, director of graduate programs in organizational development and leadership at Saint Joseph’s University.

For more information, visit bit.ly/PHLpublicsafety.

Check out Williams' podcast and writings at jerriwilliams.com.

 
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