Laurier researchers to study the impacts of COVID-19 on women in law enforcement

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Debra Langan and Carrie Sanders, associate professors in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Criminology, were awarded $24,879 to conduct a gendered analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 on women in law enforcement.

Their research assistant on the project is Danielle Thompson, a second-year master’s student in Laurier Brantford’s department of criminology.

In collaboration with Ontario Women in Law Enforcement, a networking and professional development forum for women in police services throughout the province, Langan, Sanders and Thompson will be examining what effects COVID-19 has had on the challenges and inequalities women in these professions face both at work and at home.

“We’ve been researching this area for the past six years looking at the challenges that women face both at work, on the front lines and then also at home,” Langan said.

“So we’ve had an interest in this for a while. With the onset of COVID-19, we became concerned about what was happening now for women in light of the [pandemic]. So that’s why we reached out to the Ontario Women in Law Enforcement, who were very keen to partner with us.”

“We are going to be doing a two-phase study. We start with an online survey, which we will be releasing within the next day or two [and then] will be sent to [Ontario Women in Law Enforcement’s] membership. Then we invite people who finish the survey to interview, as well,” she said.

The study is going to gather responses from women in law enforcement outside of Ontario as well, which Langan hopes will expand the perspectives that are collected for the analysis.

“The Ontario Women in Law Enforcement have a close working relationships with two other groups in Canada: The British Columbia Women in Law Enforcement, and the Atlantic Women in Law Enforcement. So we’ve already had confirmation from the organization in British Columbia that they are going to also send the survey to their own membership and we’re waiting to hear back from the Atlantic group,” Langan said.

“We’re looking at quite a large sample in survey data coming, really, from across Canada.”

Research has shown that women in these jobs experience high levels of stress and they often perform the majority of domestic labour and the care for their children at home, which are issues that are expected to be complicated even further by the problems brought on by the pandemic. 

“We recognize that women in policing are working on the frontlines very often in emergency response kinds of situations and we feel, given what we know about women’s experiences in this kind of work, we are concerned about how COVID-19 is further complicating the ways in which they need to do work,” Langan said.

“We recognize and we hear through our informal channels that they have been experiencing significant challenges because of the pandemic.”

Women in various policing roles that include frontline or managerial work are likely going to face a variety of obstacles due to the pandemic that might not be the same, depending on the branch of the field they’re working in.

“There are different kinds of challenges we anticipate for each of those groups,” Langan said.

“But traditionally pre-pandemic women at work—especially women who have families—struggle to meet the demands of their schedules.”

“They see things in that work that can be quite devastating. They see tragedy, they see traumatic events and then they come home to their families,” she said.

The eventual goal of the study is to utilize the information gained from the analysis responses to help advise police organizations in providing better safeguards and supports for their female employees.

“We hope to gain a rich understanding of their experience at work in these various capacities during COVID-19, because we have a strong sense that [the pandemic] is adding another layer to the nature of their challenges,” Langan said.

“The notion is that we can help policing organizations so that they’re protecting the well being of female police officers.”

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