By: David Bunce 

Professor Carmen Poulin is one half of a research effort examining the ways in which marginalized people experience challenges in the workplace.

She and Dr. Lynne Gouliquer of Laurentian University created “P-SEC”: the Psycho-Social Ethnography of the Commonplace. This methodology inspects the plights of marginalized individuals to propose policy changes that integrate their needs into the workplace. 

The methodology employed by P-SEC blends the sociology background of Gouliquer with the psychology background of Poulin. Some questions explored by P-SEC are as follows:

  1. How does a particular organization shape the lives, the sociology, and the psychology of a marginalized person on a day-to-day basis?
  2. How does a marginalized individual think of and cope with the way organizations complicate their reality?
  3. What forms does resilience take in the context of a marginalizing organization?
  4. What organizational policies could be changed to improve the lives of marginalized groups?

The organization had an early success when they interviewed over 120 members of the LGBT community who were former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The military had an express policy banning the queer community due to “security risks.” These members were therefore discharged from the military due to their membership in the LGBT community. 

Such discrimination was commonplace in Canada until 1992, when Michelle Douglas, a lesbian military officer, launched a legal challenge against the policy. Douglas had previously been “honourably discharged” when her LGBT status was uncovered. The case was settled before reaching court with the discriminatory policy being abandoned by the military. 

P-SEC examined the experiences of other military members like Douglas. Their work was instrumental in arming lawyers with the means to extract an apology and $100 million from the Trudeau government as compensation for individuals whose careers ended due to their sexual orientation. 

To complete their work, Poulin says they always look at what marginalized people need in their work that is being neglected by the dominant group. 

“Being marginalized, by definition, is [the act of] not being present at the decision-making table.” 

Female firefighters are one such marginalized group. P-SEC interviewed over 100 female firefighters to unveil the unique challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. 

One issue they uncovered is that the standard firefighter uniform is not suitable for women, who are typically of a smaller stature than men. Many women had to wear multiple pairs of socks or shoes inside their boots. This can cause a lack of coordination which threatens safety. 

It can be difficult to find funding for women’s uniforms. A uniform may cost upwards of $1,000 and is only usable for one individual. If that member were to leave the unit, the uniform would go to waste. 

Women also report sexist attitudes in the workplace, such as being forced into work involving pregnant women or emotionally charged situations. While having no additional experience compared to the men on the force, they are viewed as being more able to handle these sorts of situations. 

Poulin’s team is tackling these issues by providing recommendations on uniform design to accommodate smaller bodies, as well as proposing internal fire fighting procedures to improve  female firefighters’ work experience. 

P-SEC has numerous exciting ongoing projects that are handled by a talented set of graduate students. 

Notable examples include: sexism experienced by female corrections officers; the experience of informal caregivers (ex. An individual caring for their ailing mother); and how bouldering — the sport of climbing boulders — can effectively gage body shape differences between men and women. 

In short, the principle of P-SEC is: “always looking at the marginalized person and putting their everyday experience at the centre of the research.” 

For those interested in P-SEC’s research, please visit: https://p-sec.org/en/.