There was a time when it might have been difficult to see women occupying top positions in a male dominated organisation such as the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Today it is vastly different. We now see women challenging the typical stereotypes and moving into leadership positions. Stephanie Lindsay is one such woman. She is no pushover. She is a woman dominating in a man’s field. Was it easy, we asked her, or was it luck? And of course she answers without thought and with great emphasis that it was sheer hard work and a huge passion for what she does. It was not an easy journey but thanks to her natural leadership ability, family support and the values that were instilled in her at an early age by her grandfather, she is on top of her game with a lot more to accomplish.
TBWM: How Stephanie finds time to be the Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Jamaica, a Member of the Kiwanis Club of Constant Spring, a Soroptimist, an Entrepreneur, along with her very demanding role at the JCF is a dizzying prospect to say the least. We had the rare opportunity to sit down with Superintendent Lindsay to get her perspective on life, career and finding time for herself amidst managing the other multiple facets of her life. She is indeed a shining example of the phenomenal woman Maya Angelou spoke of in her poem of the same title.
Whenever I get a chance to dwell on my early days, I can say without hesitation that I had an awesome childhood. I grew up in a rural community called Mocho, Clarendon on a well fruited farm with my grandparents. My Grandfather was a big manufacturer of yam for export and he also reared different kinds of animals. I was born to a teenaged mother who was 17 at the time she had me. I did not know who my father was, but what was sure was that in those days teenage pregnancy in a family was an embarrassment. Added to that, my grandparents were strong Christian people and so the pregnancy was unacceptable. They deemed it a failure of their parenting.
My Grandparents took me at 9 months and my mother left the community to go to Kingston in search of a better life, she would visit over the years until I went to live with her at age 12.
My early years in that community were grounded in the church. There was not much to do there but attend church. A lot of church. I went to Mocho All Age, then on to Lennon Secondary as it was known at that time.
As a child – I was always active and tended to assume leadership roles. Looking back I realise my leadership abilities were evident from early in life, which allows me to say that leadership is one of my strengths, along with the ability to motivate and inspire people.
In school I had different leadership roles: I was a student council representative, Head girl, and also graduated top of the class. I stress those points to say that oftentimes persons who are born to single parents are at times pigeon-holed as being unable to achieve success because of their beginnings of being born into what many would consider to be a less than perfect situation.
Going to school, materially we really never had much. Not saying we were dirt poor, but I remember in my graduation year that my mother could not afford it when it was time to pay for exams. One of my teachers who believed in my ability wanted to pay for the exams but my mother would not allow it. She felt that if a favour was done, then there was an expectation of having to give something in return, which was really not the case. So I ended up doing the SSE, after which I got a summer job at the same school I was graduating from. They hired me as a secretary and helped me to sit my CXC subjects through the Heart Program that was being offered there. I later found out they were grooming me to become a teacher and so on their insistence I applied to the Teachers College.
Secretly, I always loved the police force. I had a very strong interest that not only stemmed from seeing the officers in their uniforms, but also the authority that came with having the positions. It was 1989 and the Police Force was short on women. I accompanied a friend of mine who was going to take the acceptance test, but also prepared myself just in case I too would have the opportunity to take the test as well. I was fortunate to be invited to do the test and passed. Due to the shortage of women in the force, the process that would allow me to be accepted went quickly.
I was 18 when I was called to enter the Police Force. My mentors at Lennon Secondary were very disappointed but this was my passion and something I knew I had to do. After serving in different areas within the JCF, I began to think about how I could team my love for law enforcement with teaching (surprisingly that was still on my mind). I later entered Mico Teachers College and received my teaching diploma and started working with the Safe School program, where I coordinated the different activities involved. Shortly thereafter I once again started thinking about school management. I thought that in future I could possibly switch from police management to school management and become a school principal, and so I returned to Mico Teachers College and did my degree in Leadership and Management to become qualified as a School Principal.
Life as a Woman Police Officer
TBWM– There is a common public opinion that the training that officers go through is inadequate and not rigorous enough. In other words the public at times believes that police officers are not qualified to do their job. What do you have to say about this?
SL: Because of the perception of police officers being unqualified, you are always in a position where you have to prove yourself as being worthy and capable. The Jamaica Constabulary Force probably has more qualified officers than many other private sector organisations in the country. Most of our leaders are tertiary level qualified and certified but I also have the opinion that even now in 2018 there are a lot of people who believe the requirement to be an officer is a “big foot, tall and not cute”.
There always seems to be a need to demonstrate to the people you serve that you are qualified to do what you do and that every day you are adding value. It is a tough job, but we do what we have to. To be a really good police officer you need to have passion for what you do in order to keep you continually motivated, even when you are criticised or bashed or otherwise facing tough and stressful times. For me personally, I am never a substandard person and always strive to operate at the highest level that I can.
Being a woman police officer is not easy. You have to be tough, not just physically but mentally. I was promoted very early in my career with the JCF. I became Corporal, then Sergeant, and I am now a Superintendent with 5 years under my belt. When you are a female in a male-dominated organisation there are always 10 other males competing to fill a position that you occupy or could occupy. This means that as a woman you have to standout and demonstrate your capability if you want to excel. You have to be exceptional and strive for perfection or you will never be recognised.
Thankfully there have been also been other women in the force that have defied the odds and have paved the way for me. I have had my fair share of ups and down and challenges in the JCF, but on each occasion I overcame. Quite recently I was blamed for a situation that occurred when I was not even on active duty, but after 27 years in the JCF, I understand the dynamics of the organisation.
One of my motivations is being able to help people who come to me for advice on dealing with negative situations. Maybe it is because of my Christian background, but I always believe in destiny and I believe that when something happens to you, it happens for a reason, and if we do not take the time out to find the reason then we may be misguided. Every time I go through a difficult situation I pose the question to God “Why am I going through this?” Most times I tell myself that life is a journey and every juncture is preparing me for something else.
Sometimes your next assignment requires you to be a different person. You cannot enter the new situation being your old self, sometimes it takes a jolt into reality that says “Hey, I don’t think you are ready, I don’t think you are tough enough”. Whenever we get a test, we either pass or fail. We cannot stay down at every hurdle that causes us to fall. There are times when we need to step back and regroup. Sometimes we get pushed back into the wilderness so we can reflect. Sometimes our lives can be going so good and we stop paying attention to the people we care about. We can get so caught up in whatever we are doing that we become a different person and then begin to lose the common touch. We cannot get through life without being grounded.
My aim in life is to impact as many persons as I can. I have worked in really depressed communities in Jamaica such as Cassava Piece and Grants Pen and mentored a lot of kids. I remember mentoring and working with 3 young men in particular from Cassava Piece. They eventually became a part of the police force and did very well because they were shown a different way. They were given an opportunity and they capitalised on it. I believe in most cases all it takes is to just be there and to show a wayward individual a clear picture of a different and positive life. I have done that and I have proven that, and that is one of the things that motivate me.
TBWM – We at TBWM want to play our part in changing the perception that the police are not doing much. From where you sit, do police officers really help the communities they serve?
SL – Yes, a lot of police officers are doing this but unfortunately it does not usually grab the attention of the media. There are officers who help and not from the constabulary purse but from their own. I remember there was a family in St Elizabeth that got burnt out and it was a Corporal who accepted all 4 children from that family into her home and sent them to school until the police force was able to mobilise help and get them back on their feet.
There are police officers right now going above and beyond the call of duty to assist the public at large. There is another retired officer who took disadvantaged children into her home. She clothed, fed and sent them to school. A lot of police officers help. They do not help for the limelight as that could distract from the compassion. While I was Head of Communications at the Jamaica Constabulary Force I tried to get these stories out – but it’s not killing and it’s not gory so nobody pays attention. These officers do it for love and that is what is important.
Her take on Policing and the society at large.
I believe that change for Jamaica and for a better society will occur when there is integration and interaction with the police across the island at the local community level. The trust levels need to be increased between police and the communities they serve. That is why I am big on community policing. Once there is a deliberate demonstration of that effort to encourage the integration, change will occur. Policing has changed over the years. It is challenging to maintain the core functions which are to serve, protect, preserve life and maintain good order. All of this is being challenged by the social issues that we are faced with now. How does one enforce good order when we have a society with a mind-set that does not believe in rules? It will require a new methodology and a re-socialising of a generation that believes that disorder is a norm.
I believe that despite all the challenges, in very short order we will see changes in the community and the country in general as we await the mandate of the recently appointed Commissioner. I think it is not as hard as we believe to address the society and the crime and the moral decay. I believe we can change it for good once we are consistent in the plans, have excellent communication about what is being done so no assumptions are made. Make the moves that are being made visible to all, because people judge success by what is evident and not otherwise.
Stephanie on Creating Harmony or Balance or is it Juggling?
I think it is a juggle. A professional career, family life, taking care of number one (me) among other things, can be challenging. I think having a good family base, whether it’s your personal family or your relatives or even friends is important. My mother is one of my biggest fans. She calls me every day wanting to know what’s happening. If she thinks I’m stressed, she is ready to come spend a few days so I can return order to my life.
On the matter of raising children
I have 3 children, one daughter, Brithney, and two sons, Bradlee and Stesean.
My eldest, Brithney, is currently Miss UWI. She is very unassuming but extremely self-motivated. From an early age I never had to say do your homework. She has achieved so much already. She was also Miss Immaculate and strategically decided that she was going to save me from having to pay school fees for sixth form because that was a prize. She is a child that would make any parent proud. She did thirteen subjects while doing sports, even serving as captain and goal keeper of the football team. She currently goes to CARIMAC where she is studying Integrated Marketing.
Bradlee, my second child, is 16 and attends Wolmers Boys. He is a very nice young man who is a role model to his sister even though she is older. He is a leader in his own right at school and very responsible. He is now diligently preparing for his external exams and I have no doubt that he will do well. He makes parenting so easy for me.
My youngest, Stesean, is my miracle baby. He started out defying the odds, having been born severely premature and weighing two and three quarter pounds. No one wanted to touch him or take care of him, so I was all he had. This is a testimony to the relationship we have today. He goes everywhere with me. Looking at him today – all of eight, I thank God because there are no medical issues that one would anticipate with a beginning like his.
I taught all my children the concept of responsibility very early in their lives, because it’s very important that you love your children but that you don’t baby them to the extent that they are not functional human beings. I am raising my children to be very functional.
I believe we have to save the future generation from themselves. I believe in discipline and positively directing them: when my kids play the fool I take stuff away from them and give it to some other child to appreciate. I don’t allow my children to take things for granted. They have to know how to appreciate the little things. As parents these days we allow children to dictate too much. We are not protecting them, especially as it relates to social media. In my job I see too many children going astray, and so I believe that we need to make sure all is well with them and do what we can for them.
My inspirations in life are my children. Everything I do is about my children. I am inspired by them. They make me feel like I am a good mother There’s a lot of time that I don’t spend with them because my job takes away from family time but when we get together it’s like I am never away.
Her views on man/woman relationship
TBWM: Being a policewoman, do you think that you intimidate men or do they love you for who you are?
Generally men tend to feel intimidated by women who carry a gun and women in uniform (laughing). Although I do not believe they are entirely intimidated. You will hear things like,” even though you’re a police it is only when you put on your uniform”. I do try to separate my professional life from my personal life. Men naturally are dominant figures and sometimes not every man can handle women who are strong, tough and high achievers. Sometimes you have similar careers and if you are not achieving at the same level and same pace, because men don’t like to feel inferior, it can affect your relationship. Sometimes you have to make a choice of whether to keep the spouse or tame your own ambition. And that is unfair, but you have to decide what you want. It is always a difficult situation and that is why I believe we have so many single, professional women.
Lessons learned over the years:
- Family is important – We have a tight knit family and we feed from each other’s energy, where one is lacking the other will always be there to give the advice or support that is needed.
- My mother taught me how to make something from nothing and to make life you really do not have to lean on anyone.
- My grandfather taught me how to fight for myself, how to be tough and not weak – not promoting violence, but he once told me while growing up with him that if I go out in the community and allow anyone to bully me, I should not re-enter his house. That has stayed with me over the years. I fight for what I believe in and this has helped me in my position in the Force. I do not give up my rights.
- You don’t fuss in the family. We are all insiders and everyone else is an outsider. Blood is thicker than water. I am the peacemaker of the family and so I’m always called to resolve family issues. Conflicts do not need to simmer for very long and so we practice moving past issues quickly.
- Help whenever and wherever you can.
- In everything we do we have to trust God.
TBWM: What is your favourite colour and why?
SL: I love white although it is not a color. It represents purity and sincerity and I believe sincerity
TBWM: What is your favourite quote that has helped you in your career?
“Whatever your mind can conceive and believe the mind can achieve” Napolean Hill
TBWM: What Bible verse would you say has governed your life over the years?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me Philippians 4:13
TBWM: Leave our women with some words of encouragement.
I encourage all women to understand who you are; have a definition and a mission that governs who you are and what you want to accomplish and be remembered for. Women have to define their identity – if this is absent you will struggle in most areas of your life. If you are in a relationship you may allow your spouse to define you.
In the workplace, your boss and co-workers may try to define you, as opposed to you knowing why you are in the organisation. Having a definition of purpose enables us as women to know what we want from the organisation and in return what we want to give to it. You may not be the most liked or popular but if you operate with certain principles, at the end of the day you are assured of getting as much as you are giving without regret.
Have a sense of determination that will allow you to do what you need to do over and over but still at a high quality. As women in leadership and going places, in order to get the kind of recognition wherever you are, you cannot be ordinary. You have to strive to be extraordinary and always as good as your last performance.
Always have a support group. I recommend the family but not also join a church group or join a social club.
You absolutely must take care of yourself. In our quest to always be there for others, oftentimes our needs take a back seat. We have to remember that we are also human too. Time for you is necessary.
In order to deal with challenges I go to the hairdresser. A good hair day makes me feel on top of the world. I believe image is important and in order to manage people and lead people you must have an image were they will feel that they can look up to you. Never allow people to see you in a bad state. Even if you don’t have a dollar, nobody has to know…dress and look like a million dollars.
As women we need to find a way to deal with difficult periods when they arise. Whenever I am going through a difficult period I get busy. No time for overthinking. I take on a project, I team up with friends or I call my church and ask if there is anything that needs to be done. Or even spend more quality time with my kids. I just try to keep busy through difficult times.
You have to be your number one cheerleader. On days when no one is cheering you and there is no audience you can cheer yourself on. You do not need others to tell you how beautiful and brilliant you are or to make you feel empowered. You must feel all of this every day. This takes me back to my favourite quote – Whatever your mind can conceive and believe the mind can achieve.
Do not use your achievements as a crutch. Do not believe that those things complete you. You first have to be human – all of these things can be taken away and then what? It is important that we value love, sharing, togetherness, the practice of kindness et al. – those I believe are the important things in life.
If you can be a flower, be an orchid because it blooms where it’s planted – sand, stone, any rough terrain, orchids survive. Life will always hand you tough soil and you have to survive, so be an orchid and survive, bloom where you are planted.
TBWM: Stephanie is such an exemplary model to follow. Strong, determined and forthright. We get that it is not easy being a woman in a man’s world, but it is possible to be that and not lose the essence of who we are. Once you understand who you are and the role that you play, know the fundamentals of life and how you fit in the scheme of it then you can be well on your way to becoming a force to reckon with. We thank Stephanie for sharing so much insight and positive takeaway and believe that you who are reading this will be motivated to be a better you.