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Women in the workforce may have increased exponentially over the past several years, but they still face challenges -- especially when they are in non-traditional jobs like law enforcement.

When Penny Harrington started police work in 1973, she thought it would be her generation that would settle the gender issues. "I never imagined that women would still be going through some of the things they still go through, today," said Harrington, assistant director at the National Center for Women and Policing, which has offices in Los Angeles and Arlington, Va.

Overwhelmingly, women are not reaching their potential or being targeted for promotion. Nationwide there are 18,000 police chiefs, Harrington said. Of those, 150 are women.

"They are not encouraged, that is key," Harrington said, adding that that can harm the individual and the agency as a whole.

This is not a broad brush picture. Some women in law enforcement report difficult times throughout their careers. Others have found a more level playing field.

How bad is the problem? Here is the story of one woman with a unique career. In the next column, we'll hear from some local women about their experiences.

Eileen Gilleece, 39, has been an investigator for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, since Nov. 1, 1999.

For Gilleece, traveling the world and interacting with some of the world's top minds in her field has been an exciting experience. You could say she's not anxious to return to her day job as a detective with the New Jersey State Police.

Recently 27 New Jersey State Police supervisors were promoted to the ranks of lieutenant colonel, major and captain, including the promotion of the first-ever female troopers to the rank of captain. Two African-American and two Hispanic troopers were also promoted to captain.

Gilleece had a different experience, one that includes the 70 pounds she put on shortly after joining the state police 15 1/2 years ago -- a battle she has fought ever since. Just five more years, she tells herself, until retirement.

In the years up to that point, she has been denied special assignments and training. And she challenged the system internally.

"I got to know the system. If you use their own logic against them, then they don't know what to do," she said in a recent phone interview from the Hague.

Once, she applied for a Fulbright Scholarship and, on her application, asked: "Can I apply for a Fulbright Scholarship?"

She gave them seven days notice.

When her colonel said her application might be denied on the time issue, she said: "No, sir, not an institution that makes life and death decisions." And then she winked.

Her superiors accused her of being cocky.

"Since when has cockiness been a detriment to the New Jersey State Police?" Gilleece asked.

After one deflating incident, she went back to her desk where she could see her reflection in the mirror. Her shoulders were slumped, "and I just looked like a loser." But her father taught her to turn situations into a positive.

Gilleece attended a professional development class at Harvard, which selected her as a Kennedy fellow. At Harvard she met the head of the U.N. Leadership Academy in Aman, Jordan. A year later she applied for the program and was selected.

Her group spent 10 days in Aman before traveling to Japan and China. They returned for a debriefing in Aman, where she gave a talk on corruption.

Gilleece said she had to pay for nearly all her professional development, including trips abroad. She said she also took her own vacation time. But it was worth it.

She returned to the New Jersey State Police in August 1998. A few months later, she was on sick leave for 10 days.

"If I'd have gone fishing they would have shown more interest," she said, adding that no one in her department asked for a debriefing of her experience. "I kind of knew there would be a problem."

She was assigned to make background checks. "It was punishment detail," Gilleece surmised.

In her estimation, she wasn't being treated equally. A male counterpart would attend an eight-hour course, she said, "and then he'd be in charge of airplane disaster."

Gilleece is scheduled to return from her current assignment in the Hague in October, but she's filing paperwork to extend her time overseas for two more years.

Management of the New Jersey State Police may gave changed, she said, but the culture won't.

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