A top female officer in Police Scotland has described as “shocking” a report which found roughly four out of five colleagues agree sexism and misogyny is an issue within the force.
Assistant Chief Constable Emma Bond told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on Wednesday that the paper makes for difficult reading, but she went on to insist work is ongoing to ensure both women and men can “thrive” in the force.
The survey found 81 per cent of officers agree sexism and misogyny is an issue, and 86 per cent of female officers have either been subjected to or witnessed such behaviour.
It said officers who raise concerns about misogyny and sexism fear being labelled a “grass” by colleagues and having a “target” put on their back.
The document also said a “boys’ club culture” exists in parts of the service, sexist behaviour is often dismissed as “banter”, and if someone challenges it they are seen as “not able to take a joke” and isolated from the team.
Ms Bond conceded the report’s findings are disappointing, describing them as “shocking” but “necessary” to recognise the experiences of colleagues.
She said it is more worrying that 19 per cent of respondents do not think sexism and misogyny is an issue, saying this demonstrates a “gap” in awareness of the problem that needs to be addressed.
She added another key concern is that 40 per cent of male colleagues surveyed have witnessed sexism and misogyny but did not feel they could step in to challenge the behaviour or know how to raise the issue with their superiors.
Ms Bond said there is some cause for optimism, however, noting 50 per cent of the survey sample said they feel the force is now taking steps to address the issue.
“My focus at this stage is about short-term tangible actions to really develop sustainable change in the medium and long-term,” she said.
SPA interim chair Fiona McQueen said she was concerned to read details of specific incidents of sexism in the report and asked what is being done to assist those who have reported such behaviour.
Ms Bond replied: “We are very alive to the fact that there are undoubtedly individuals within the organisation who have had very personal experiences and been directly impacted by some of these issues.
“So while there may be broader procedural policy related matters, what we will do is review our grievance procedures and processes.”
Asked how confident she is that Police Scotland is now listening to female officers, Ms Bond said she is certain attitudes are changing, and she is prepared to be held “totally accountable” for turning things around.
“I genuinely believe that colleagues in the organisation can be very confident,” she said. “I think the big priority now is to take action to address the issues that colleagues have raised.
“I will provide updates of the work that is being undertaken, and I am more than happy to be totally accountable.
“I’ve been a police officer for 23 years. I am very alive to the issues that colleagues experience on a daily basis.
“I know I am not alone in terms of having that desire to work together to make sure that we have a culture and environment [in which] both women and men can thrive and come to work and enjoy a positive experience as being members of the Police Service of Scotland.”
Her comments came a week after outgoing Police Scotland Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone admitted the force “is institutionally racist and discriminatory”.
He went on to tell the SPA there is “no place” in the force for people who harbour prejudices, and that the behaviour of colleagues who have been found to hold such views is “utterly condemned”.