Seizing upon Sexual Assault Awareness Month to create inclusive workplaces
May 23, 2023 By Bailey Reid
May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and honouring this month is of particular interest to police services. Not only are police organizations working to combat gender-based violence in our communities, but they also face issues of sexual violence and harassment internally.
Of course, this issue is not limited to police services. A 2021 study1 found that one in four women and one in six men have experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in the workplace. However, policing is in a unique position as a signifier of public trust, and first responders really do have a unique workplace culture that does not fit in well with most “plug-in and go” workplace harassment trainings available for purchase. Additionally, we know that women who work in male-dominated workforces1 and service or hospitality industries also experience higher rates of harassment. Multiple reports of women in policing document these issues, with the impacts ranging from class-action lawsuits2 to long-lasting psychological effects. Occasionally, the outcomes can be tragic3.
When initially faced with a human resources crisis of this nature, police services often commit to three main actions: mandated training, internal investigation and enhancing policy-based responses. However, research4 suggests that the issue of sexual harassment or violence within policing is an issue of culture, particularly around the intersections of masculinity and the entrenched traditions in policing. As a result, mandated training often fails to shift culture, and can even result in members becoming resistant to training as they perceive this training as punishment for bad behaviour.
After providing mandated training to different organizations for over a decade each, my colleague, JR LaRose5, and I decided it was time to try something new. A better approach to changing culture is to create that shift from within. Empowering your service to take action is likely to be much more effective than trying to shift culture through checking a box with a yearly, hour-long session from a purchased standardized training.
Not only are police organizations working to combat gender-based violence in our communities, but they also face issues of sexual violence and harassment internally.
We recommend a four-step process to begin these conversations within your service:
- Consult: Begin by asking your members where they think the issues are and how sexual harassment can manifest in the service.
- Conspire: Ask the member what would really work to change culture, and who will step up to lead it.
- Craft: Pull these ideas into a strategy or workplan that provides measurable timelines and goals to achieve the culture change you seek.
- Collaborate: Launch your strategy by working with the key champions in your organization to action the steps laid out in your strategy.
These four steps achieve three critical goals for changing culture:
- You build buy-in by having the solutions come from within.
- You build momentum for the next steps by having champions lead the work.
- By centring storytelling, you connect on a human level with your colleagues, meaning the culture chiefs are much more likely to resonate with everyone.
Culture change can be a slow process, and it must work in tandem with policy and senior leadership initiatives that hold people accountable when wrongdoing occurs. However, the month of May is a perfect time to evaluate the culture of your organization and assess with your members if it is one of inclusion and safety. Change is possible for any institution and Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a great time to start that work.
- Burczycka, Marta. “Workers’ experiences of inappropriate sexualized behaviours, sexual assault and gender‑based discrimination in the Canadian provinces, 2020.” Statistics Canada. August 2021. Accessed at https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00015-eng.pdf?st=FfGyyjrU.
- Grant, Meghan. “Women working with RCMP suffered ‘shocking’ levels of violence, sex assaults, says report.” CBC News. June 2022. Accessed at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/rcmp-class-action-tiller-civilian-women-final-report-1.6491165.
- Charlebois, Brieanna. “Const. Nicole Chan feared she’d never work again after last hospital visit: VPD sergeant.” The Canadian Press. January 2023. Accessed at https://bc.ctvnews.ca/const-nicole-chan-feared-she-d-never-work-again-after-last-hospital-visit-vpd-sergeant-1.6252313.
- Rawski, Shannon L. “Masculinity Contest Cultures in Policing Organizations and Recommendations for Training Interventions.” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 74 (3). September 2018. Accessed at https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/josi.12286.
Bailey Reid is the co-founder and CEO of The Spark Strategy. She has been part of the grassroots movement to end gender-based violence for 15 years and holds a Criminology degree from Carleton University.
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