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Organizational communication

June 21, 2016
Joe Couto
Tags: MAPC
Joe Couto

How do you change an embedded culture?  How do you move organizations and their members from a deeply rooted organizational ethos to something new and reflective of today’s diverse society?  These are questions that academic researchers in the field of organizational communication increasingly face today.

In 2013, I began work on a thesis required to earn my Master of Arts in Professional Communication from Royal Roads University. My thesis examined the basic beliefs, values, and assumptions of police culture, which in the Western world has been dominated by white, working class, heterosexual males. It further considered how the culture is perceived by and impacts the workplace and career experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) police officers in the Province of Ontario. The challenge was that while substantial research in this area has been carried out in the United States, Britain, and other Western countries, no similar research has been conducted in Canada. 

My research was framed by Edgar Schein’s Cultural Approach to Organizations Theory (Schein, 2010).  A content analysis of open-ended interviews with 21 LGBT police officers showed that most officers believe their status and relationships in their workplaces are more positive today compared to other eras. However, it also found that these officers also believed that police culture fundamentally retains a hypermasculine and heterosexual orientation. These finding were supported by a content analysis of key artefacts from selected police services, which indicated that police services retain traditional and conservative values. My research confirmed previous academic findings:

  • LGBT officers reported that rather than being subjected to overt harassment, they typically experienced “microaggressions” – brief and common daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities that convey hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults to an identifiable group defined by (Sue et al., 2007);
  • LGBT officers exhibited a “working personality” where they strive to become “prototypical cops” (Skolnick, 2008); some tend to lead “dual lives” where their work and their sexual selves are largely separated (Burke, 1994; Miller, Forest, and Jurik, 2003);
  • Officers from outside the traditional white, male, heterosexual police culture must negotiate with “intersectionality”, which refers to the “interactivity of social identity structures” which can include race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in shaping life experiences, especially in the context of privilege and oppression (Gopadlas, 2013);
  • Organizational support for inclusion of diverse group is seen as somehow forced (through legislation or human rights codes) rather than naturally embraced;
  • Those participants who reported positive experiences also tended to state that their organizations made efforts to include LGBT officers in their artefacts, supported participation of LGBT officers in community events such as Pride parades or provided diversity-related training for officers and members of the LGBT community;
  • Organizational resistance toward inclusivity in the organization centres primarily on middle mangers 50 years of age and older who retain more traditional and negative attitudes toward LGBT police officers; and
  • Acceptance of transgender officers remains a largely unaddressed issue.

I am pleased to report that receptivity among police leaders in Ontario to this research has been very positive, including at presentations to the York Regional Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ontario as well as a session at the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police’s (OACP) 2016 Annual Meeting.


  • Burke, M. (1994). Homosexuality as deviance: The case of the gay police officer.  British Journal of Criminology, 34(2), 192-203
  • Gopaldas, A. (2013). Intersectionality 101. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, (32), 90-94
  • Miller, S.L., Forest, K.B., & Jurik, N.C. (2003). Diversity in blue: Lesbian and gay police officers in a masculine occupation. Men and Masculinities, 5, 355-372.doi: 10.1177/0095399702250841
  • Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass
  • Skolnick, J.H. (2008). Enduring issues of police culture and demographics. Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy. 18(1), 35-4.doi: 10.1080/10439460701718542 
  • Sue, D., Capodilupo, C. M., Torino, G. C., Bucceri, J. M., Holder, A. B., Nadal, K. L., & Esquilin, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist, 62(4), 271-286. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.4.271