Exploring Differing Experiences of a Masculinity Contest Culture in Policing and the Impact on Individual and Organizational Outcomes

Published date01 September 2021
Date01 September 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Exploring Differing
Experiences of a
Masculinity Contest
Culture in Policing and
the Impact on Individual
and Organizational
Angela L. Workman-Stark
Despite increasing allegations of misconduct, police organizations continue to over-
look the environmental factors that contribute to harassment and other forms of
misconduct. Using secondary survey data collected from a Canadian police organi-
zation (N¼488), this study explored the specific factors that might contribute to
masculinity contest cultures (i.e., cultures akin to a zero-sum competition with rules
defined by masculine norms; MCCs). This study also examined whether MCC norms
are experienced differently based on level within the organization, occupational role,
and employee sex. The study findings suggest that MCC norms may be amplified by a
shortage of personnel, and certain policies and practices that pit members against
each other. The study also found that MCC norms are not necessarily perceived in
the same way. For instance, female and frontline police officers were more likely to
perceive their workplace as a MCC. Female officers were also more likely to expe-
rience harassing behaviors. This study makes a significant contribution to research
and practice as it advances our understanding of MCCs within policing and how they
might be changed.
Faculty of Business, Athabasca University, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Angela L. Workman-Stark, Faculty of Business, Athabasca University, Athabasca, Alberta, Canada.
Email: angela.workman-stark@athabascau.ca
Police Quarterly
2021, Vol. 24(3) 298–324
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611120976090
masculinity contest culture, masculinity, harassment
In recent years, police organizations have faced increasing allegations of dis-
crimination and harassment. For instance, several reports have documented the
negative experiences of female officers in various police organizations across
Canada (Bueckert, 2017; Hasham, 2016; Ontario Human Rights Commission,
2015; Pearson, 2019; Prowse, 2013; Smith, 2012; Trinh, 2020). Examples also
abound of costly discrimination and harassment-related lawsuits, such as the
recent settlement of two $100 million class-action lawsuits brought forth by
current and former female members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
(Azpiri, 2020). More recently, the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement has
placed a significant spotlight on various forms of external misconduct, primarily
the excessive use of force and discrimination against Black and Indigenous
people in Canada (Forester, 2020). Although these two forms of misconduct
are seemingly unrelated, an investigation of a police organization, following the
police-involved shooting of an unarmed Black man in the United States, found
evidence of an internal culture of harassment and bullying (US DOJ, 2015).
Survey studies have shown a high incidence of harassment in male dominated
occupations, such as policing (Fitzgerald et al., 1999), that not only value mas-
culinity over femininity, but often define and prize specific forms of masculinity,
including “competitiveness, assertiveness, physical strength, aggression, risk-
taking, courage, heterosexuality, and lack of feminine traits” (Willer et al.,
2013, p. 983). In these environments, men (and women) are often expected to
prove their manhood (i.e., compete in a masculinity contest—a zero-sum com-
petition with rules defined by masculine norms; Berdahl et al., 2018) by behav-
ing in accordance with these desirable forms of masculinity. In such a context,
winners are more likely to be straight, white men (Rudman et al., 2012), who
tend to be rewarded with higher status jobs and positions of power (Kerfoot &
Knights, 1993; Prokos & Padavic, 2002), whereas the losers are often women
and men from marginalized groups (Livingston & Pearce, 2009).
To help identify masculinity contest cultures and their costs for both individ-
uals and organizations, Berdahl et al. (2018) developed the Masculinity Contest
Culture (MCC) scale. This scale is comprised of four distinct, but highly corre-
lated dimensions: dog-eat-dog (ruthless competition), put work first (an expec-
tation of total devotion to work over family or other outside obligations),
strength and stamina (equating strength and stamina with status), and show no
weakness (pressure to avoid vulnerable emotions or uncertainty) (Berdahl et al.,
2018). Initial testing demonstrated that the MCC scale correlated with greater
organizational dysfunction, negative behavior, and poorer individual outcomes
Workman-Stark 299

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