We use cookies to track user visits on this website but all data collected is anonymous and is used only for the purpose of improving the site. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies. You will only see this message once.

Find out more
Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust Header Banner

Ms Della M Cannings QPM

Trust Chairman

Ms Della M Cannings QPM Trust Chairman

Before taking up the reins as Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) Chairman, Della Cannings QPM achieved a successful and high profile police career. Rising to the rank of chief constable, she was one of a small group of high-flying female officers who broke new ground for women in the police.

Della started her police career in 1975, the same year as the Sex Discrimination Act came into effect and five years after the Equal Pay Act. “I thought the Act would remove the obstacles for women and the glass ceiling,” she says. “But in reality I have bumped my head against it one too many times.

“My first chief constable was a forward-thinking man. But even he was shocked when I told him that my ambition was to be a chief constable myself one day. Imagine: in 1977 I had to ask permission to marry”

It is hard for women starting in a profession today to imagine a world where marriage or pregnancy meant the end of their career, and where options such as flexible working or job sharing would be laughed at. Women’s earnings were seen as ‘pin money’ – small amounts to spend on personal items aside from the general housekeeping.

“We need to keep an eye on history,” Della reminds us. “It was only 1918 that women over 30 first got the right to vote, and 1928 that women achieved equal voting rights. People lose sight of this.

“A lot has been achieved in terms of equality in the 40 years since I started my career. Of course women should expect equality as of right, but we shouldn’t take for granted the efforts of the women who paved the way for the freedoms we now enjoy. As women we must take the trouble to make our voices heard, whether that be by using our votes in the general election or speaking up for something that matters to us.”

At the start of her police career female officers were 5% of the police service. By the time she retired in 2007 this had moved to 22%, some progress. “I recognised early on that the police was a lonely place for female managers,” Della says. “So I set up a senior women’s forum and conference. It started off small. We asked every force to send their most senior woman. Some didn’t see the point. Some objected to a forum to which men were not invited. But we built a support mechanism which is still running today. We helped women identify their own leadership potential and gave them the confidence to apply for senior positions in a male-dominated culture. We identified that women often underrate their own skills and attributes.”

“By the early 2000s we were making real progress. When I became Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police in 2002, I was the fifth British woman to achieve this rank. But we saw a new challenge in extending our network internationally. So many forces in other countries were still male dominated and militaristic. Policing sits within the whole culture of a country, so how can a service be effective if it does not reflect the community it serves?

“In recent years I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world. I was the only female delegate at senior police officers’ conference in Iran. The only other women there were two translators. They told me they had to receive the permission of their husband or father to go out and do their work or travel further afield.

In the Andes I have seen women doubled over, working the land on steep mountainsides; their back-breaking toil shortening their life-expectancy.

In Tanzania a woman used her whole week’s income to buy cans of soft drinks for my colleagues and me because she wanted to offer hospitality. We accepted –giving her the dignity her offer deserved – but offered the drinks back to her own children.

“Reflecting on these experiences I realise how fortunate I am to have the freedoms of the western world. I continue to see my role now as a coach and mentor for the next generation of women. It is time, now, for today’s young women to work out where they want and need to go next.

“Women are not a homogenous group. Different types of women have different aspirations and needs. But that should not prevent women coming together to support each other. I can say, genuinely, that I am more than prepared to offer my support and experience to senior women in YAS to initiate a female managers’ network. If you are one of these women and you can see issues that need addressing, email me.”