"The masculine work culture in the police force brings certain challenges, due to traditional ideas of masculinity and the hierarchy within the institution. It is important that careers in law enforcement are open to all genders and that minority groups are not forced out of the job by a hostile work culture," says Sólveig María Thomasdóttir, who spent the summer researching responses to sexual harassment in the police force. Previous research has revealed that the police urgently need to reform the culture of masculinity within the institution, since it can drive women out of the job.
Sólveig María has recently completed a diploma in applied gender studies at the University of Iceland and was hired to work on this research project with a grant from the Student Innovation Fund. The research is overseen by Finnborg Salome Steinþórsdóttir, adjunct lecturer, and Gyða Margrét Pétursdóttir, professor, both of whom work in gender studies at the University of Iceland Faculty of Political Science.
Male-centric work culture in the police force
Sólveig's project is based on earlier research into work culture and gender relations within the police, which Finnborg and Gyða conducted in 2013. Their findings were published in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice and Policing and Society. This research showed that the work culture within the Icelandic police is heavily male-centric, which results in problems with sexual harassment, directed at women in particular. Sólveig explains that this goes a long way to explaining the low retention rates of women in law enforcement.
"Research has shown that ideas about masculinity in male-centric workplaces can be harmful for all staff, but in the case of the police it is women in particular that leave the job due to a deep-rooted culture of sexual harassment. Harassment at work can have negative consequences for employees' mental and physical health, as well as productivity and staff turnover. It is therefore very important to work towards changing the work culture in law enforcement to prevent sexual harassment," says Sólveig.
This summer, Sólveig has been working with Finnborg, Gyða and a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Political Science, Laufey Axelsdóttir, to develop a training programme for police officers to combat sexual harassment. The programme will be introduced at the start of 2024 in partnership with the Center for Police Training and Professional Development at the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police. It will aim to empower police officers to take part in tackling an organisational culture that results in a hostile work environment for many.
Sólveig explains that the programme will be based on interactive learning and staff group discussions of example stories about incidents in the police work environment. "The training programme is designed to enable staff to recognise various forms of sexual harassment and give them the skills they need to prevent these incidents in the workplace," she adds. The researchers are using material related to interactive learning, gendered power dynamics, ideas about masculinity, police culture and witness responses to develop a programme that is appropriate for the police force.
Hopeful that this work will lead to real change
The team hopes that after completing the training programme, participants will feel empowered to effect real change that will improve the work environment within the institution. "Since these training methods haven't previously been attempted in the police, it will be interesting to see how participants respond. It is likely that the programme will continue to evolve based on how it is received and how successful it is," adds Sólveig.
According to Sólveig, it has proved challenging to tackle male-centric work cultures in traditionally male-dominated professions. "Research has shown that ideas about masculinity in male-dominated workplaces can be harmful for all staff, but in the case of the police it is women in particular that leave the job due to a deep-rooted culture of sexual harassment. Harassment at work can have negative consequences for employees' mental and physical health, as well as productivity and staff turnover. It is therefore very important to work towards changing the work culture in law enforcement to prevent sexual harassment," says Sólveig.