The inequality of diversity

My mother, like most others, is the best. I don’t tell her often enough, but she gave me a moral compass and pointed out which way the road to life was. Ask her about diversity, and she probably doesn’t have a clue about the academia or science that sits behind it – but she knows, and taught me, to treat people as I’d wish to be treated.

It is, perhaps, unsurprising, that Police Forces across the UK, faced with unprecedented, significant and continuing budgetary constraints would look to further reduce their financial commitment to Diversity & Inclusion initiatives within their Forces, whilst hoping to continue the good work in some other fashion.

I say “further reduce”, because in the initial round of financial reductions under the coalition government, we saw the closure, rebadging or rebranding of Diversity Units across the UK, with officers redeployed and focus changed – or rebadged to sound more efficient. Training inputs fell by the wayside, as time and resources became more precious.

Trimming back on Diversity initiatives is an apparent financial easy win. It’s difficult to quantify the benefits, so it’s hard to justify their existence when difficult choices need to be made, and so much good work goes on across the policing spectrum. Much of what Diversity & Inclusion does is immeasurable, in a service that places so much value on what can be measured or recorded.

Notwithstanding the poor timing of the Metropolitan Police’s recent announcement of a streamlined diversity staff association model, slap-bang in the middle of LGBT History Month, I share some sympathy with Chief Officers. Lambasted by their junior colleagues for lacking visibility, a new umbrella system of associations, with high-level sponsorship could certainly inject more impetus to achieving progress, where current inertia at higher levels of officer perhaps prevails.

Sadly, there is a distinct lack of diversity amongst the UK’s Chief Police Officers. Just over 1% are from a BME background. Only 23% are female. Amongst other ranks, we enjoy year-on-year improvements.  Unfortunately, an apparent hierarchy of diversity exists, so the Police Workforce Statistical Bulletin 05/2016, produced by the Home Office, does not record comparable data on sexuality or disability, for example.

Whilst I don’t always share all the views of Met BPA Chair, Sergeant Janet Hills, I do share her sentiment. First, a group of predominantly white men within Chief Police Officer group cannot realistically hope to relate to the challenges faced by Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) officers in dealing with resentment from their own communities, or understand the professional difficulties and anxieties attached to “coming out” as gay to every colleague or stakeholder you meet – which is indirectly what happens when you talk honestly about your weekend.

As such, it is a naivety to believe our Chief Officer could, therefore, truly represent the voice of those they are presumably allocated to champion and be the sole voice on the matter at high-level meetings. A set of pre-written lines does not make for a strong debate or challenge.

Second, there should be no hierarchy of diversity, and the continued focus on “visible” diversity – the tangible strands we can actually see – only serves to be divisive and non-inclusive. Whilst I would echo Sergeant Hills’ position that a reduction to 16 hours per month funded time will hardly scratch the surface, the BMA currently receive more funded time than, for example, the LGBT Network, (who receive none) which is perhaps why there has been little visible from that Staff Association during LGBT History Month (February). I am not an advocate of a race to the bottom – and other associations should, perhaps, enjoy a better element of funding than they currently do, attached to an understanding of action and visible development towards a more equitable police service.

Thirdly, the work of Diversity Staff Associations cannot be understated. The cost of an adverse ruling at a Tribunal isn’t simply the compensation involved. It’s the reputational damage, the dent in public and colleague confidence, the spiral of negative media focus on policing as a whole. Confidence in a fair and reflective police service. Confidence in fair working conditions. An undermining of the good, decent, even-handed line managers who, with every adverse finding, feel more nervous about challenging poor performance from colleagues who fall under a diversity strand, fuelling division and resentment. That is the untold, invaluable, yet immeasurable damage that is done.

High-level sponsorship is essential to driving, promptly, changes to how we do things and how we are perceived. We would be equally critical of the leadership if they distanced themselves from the diversity challenge. But the Police Service should recognise the powerful voice of those who passionately and fervently seek to make things better. A common failure in leadership is assuming you know best. Police officers, and the public, deserve to have Diversity and Inclusion properly articulated and well represented.

The British Army, for example, enjoy high-level support. For example, a General voluntarily champions a particular strand of diversity – Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders is a staunch supporter of LGBT soldiers, but he’s an ‘ally’ who doesn’t pretend to speak on behalf of the LGBT community, however, certainly intends to support it through deed and action. The police should reflect upon this model. Support, don’t silence.

The most tangible, and possibly the most imperative, reason we must ensure policing diversity policies work effectively, is the photograph below:


15 teenagers, in 2015, murdered by a knife in London. The trend continued in 2016, and remains a pressing priority today. Yet, the majority of faces staring back from the photo are Black and Minority Ethnic youths. A community who have long distrusted police. A community who have long held the perception of disproportionate Stop Search targeting. Yet, a community which yearns for a solution to the epidemic of youth violence and knife murder. (More on knife crime in a later blog).

There can be no stronger motivation for ensuring our policies continue to reach out to underrepresented groups; to enable principled, can-do colleagues of any rank to step forward to make a difference, even a small change; and to ensure those officers have the strongest, most vocal support from our disproportionately white male senior leadership, who hold the power to making those limited, one-at-a-time differences, a more global reality.

My mother taught me that how I behaved at home, is demonstrated outside. My upbringing would be reflected in my manners and attitude toward others. The Police Service needs to stringently ensure that we nurture and place value to who we are as colleagues, as leaders, as employers – because our behaviour towards each other, in the safety of our police buildings, will inevitably spill out into the communities we serve and the people we meet. There can be no place for indifference. It starts in our Stations, amongst our brothers and sisters in blue, and from within our leadership, and we need to ensure we empower our colleagues to step forward and speak up.