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Pregnant police officers penalized, Wilfrid Laurier report says

Police women in Ontario are being penalized for having children according to new research out of Wilfrid Laurier University, published in the journal Women and Criminal Justice.

Research included interviews with more than 50 female police officers

Debra Langan said many of the women interviewed felt isolated, even though they were reporting experiences that were common to others in their field. (CBC)

Police women in Ontario are being penalized for having children, according to new research out of Wilfrid Laurier University. 

The study, which is based on interviews with more than 50 female police officers, was published in the journal Women and Criminal Justice.

"Our findings speak to the systemic disadvantage that these women face and it's important to recognize that their experiences are not individual ones," said report author Debra Langan, an associate professor with the university's criminology department. 

"It's important because often these women feel very isolated, but we're seeing very common trends across all of our in depth interviews with these women."

Langan said many of the women interviewed reported being given duties more suited to people on the disability list after announcing they were pregnant.

Others said they were assigned less important positions after returning to work after taking maternity leave.

'Cynicism and hegemonic masculinity'

"Part of it has to do with the occupational culture that the research has clearly shown is typical in policing. There's a culture of cynicism and hegemonic masculinity, and this leads to women being seen as second class citizens," she said. 

"They repeatedly have to prove their worth and so, when it comes to getting pregnant, taking maternity leave, and then returning to work, there's a lot of stigma attached to that."

While hiring more female police officers and promoting more women to positions of authority would help the situation, Langan said changing corporate policy is what will make the greatest different.

Right now, she said the policy is "gender-blind" or "gender-neutral," which tends to privilege male police officers. 

"In fact, if we look at how gender operates within services, we can see that gender really matters and we need policies that attend to the specific situations of these women."

Langan hopes police services in Ontario will consider her research and consider ways to implement its recommendations.

She said the research team still has at least 50 other police women waiting to be interviewed, and they also hope to do site-specific studies in the future.

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