WHEN Lisa Hardeman started out in the police force 40 years ago she thought if she made it to the rank of detective that'd be great.
In what is often a case of you can't be what you can't see, Commander Hardeman said at the time there were few, if any, women police officers progressing through the ranks.
"I didn't think there was a career for women in policing because you couldn't see people progressing," she said.
"I thought it was something I would enjoy doing and if I ended up being a detective that would be great. I did make it to be a detective which was an achievement, but luckily for me I had lots of people who encouraged me.
"I had a mentor later on in my career who made me keep looking at what is the next step, what more can you achieve and how can you make a difference."
She is the Commander in charge of the Priority and Safer Communities Division. She said the police force was a really good career for women and "there is the potential to do anything that you want."
Speaking at a Women in Policing forum on Tuesday, Commander Hardeman said in her role she worked with Aboriginal, youth, multicultural, disability, seniors and LGBTQIA+ people to improve their experience with police.
"I really love interacting with the community," she said.
Commander Hardeman also spoke about her instrumental role in establishing AFLW and was the 2022 NAB AFLW premiership cup ambassador.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Sharon McKinnon said the forum was an opportunity for women in the region to come together and discuss their challenges and opportunities.
"It's also strengthening the numbers of women and encouraging recruitment of women," she said.
"We still have a very low ratio of women in policing and we don't seem to retain women. Sometimes when they go off and have families it's very challenging for us to keep them in the senior ranks."
Acting Assistant Commissioner McKinnon said working in Warrnambool while raising young children had provided a great work/life balance.
"Now my children have grown up and we've gone back to Melbourne and I've been able to pursue more senior ranks as a result of being able to stay in the workplace and that's what country policing actually offers to families," she said.
"You can actually still pursue a career while your children are at a certain age, I could manage both.
"We have networks right across the state and it's about increasing the representation of women in policing, but also the opportunity to look at some of the challenges that we have as a gender and also work through problems to advance all diversity within the police force.
"When we do come together we actually find out we're tackling similar things."