National research study addresses gender equity in Canadian policing: An unprecedented initiative
November 7, 2023 By Durham Regional Police Service
Nov. 7, 2023, Whitby, Ont. – The experiences of women in policing throughout Canada is the subject of a ground-breaking national research study that begins this week.
The study, titled “Canadian Women in Policing: A National Exploration of Women Officers’ Experiences,” is being conducted by the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) in partnership with Ontario Tech University and endorsed by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP). The study aims to bridge the information gap concerning the challenges and opportunities faced by women in law enforcement in Canada and shed light on the pivotal importance of gender equity within Canadian police services.
This national survey of sworn women officers will document their experiences within, and perceptions of, their police organizations. Through this work, we hope to better understand the experiences of women police officers in Canada, and quantitatively document the current climate women officers encounter in police organizations, including whether and to what extent women encounter an internal climate of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and discrimination.
It also intends to identify any unique barriers to promotion women may face. The study will also consider how different policing contexts (e.g., size of police service; the communities the organization services, such as urban, rural, or suburban) may influence different configurations of inequity.
“This study is an essential step towards fostering gender equity and inclusivity within Canadian law enforcement agencies. By listening to the voices of women in policing, collectively we can address critical issues and promote a more equitable and supportive working environment, which is fundamental to the effectiveness of our police services,” said Peter Moreira, Chief of Police at DRPS.
International research – which may not be generalizable to a Canadian context – suggests that women continue to encounter challenges in policing, such as sexual harassment, fewer promotion opportunities, less support from higher-ranking officers, resistance from fellow officers, and greater scrutiny (Collins, 2004; Drew & Saunders, 2020; Franklin, 2005).
Research on the experiences of racialized women officers is particularly limited, but suggests that they are made to feel “doubly inferior” due to the sexism and racism they simultaneously encounter (Martin, 1995). Taking an intersectional approach, this study aims to identify and examine any variations in women’s experiences stemming from racialization as well as other social locations.
“Ontario Tech University’s Faculty of Social Science and Humanities is proud to establish this strategic research partnership with DRPS. The Canadian Women in Policing study is one of multiple ongoing research collaborations between Ontario Tech and DRPS with practical and actionable implications that connect public service and academia,” said Dr. Shahid Alvi, Professor, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, Ontario Tech University.
The research team will widely disseminate the study’s findings with the goal of providing evidence to police organizations of the scope and nature of issues women in policing encounter, if any, and to understand how women’s social locations may impact the experience of those issues. The intention is for this evidence to prompt police services to take actions to improve the experiences of women officers should the data suggest it necessary. Increasing women in policing will not result in their inclusion unless “cultural and structural change” occur alongside it (Bikos, 2022, p. 5). This research represents an important step in this larger endeavour.
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