How HR helped the CPS to lose its ‘racist’ label

When a high-profile report labelled the Crown Prosecution Service
institutionally racist eight months ago, it was up to HR director Indi Seehra
to oversee a radical overhaul of the HR function to meet the report’s
recommendations.

In July last year anti-discrimination lawyer Sylvia Denman published her
study, Race Discrimination in the Crown Prosecution Service – Final Report,
which ordered the service to take equal opportunities more seriously. The
18-month inquiry, commissioned by the CPS, claimed there was a barrier to
ethnic recruitment and promotion due to poor management training.

Last week Seehra told Personnel Today that the CPS reacted strongly to the
criticism and has since transformed its approach towards its ethnic minority
staff.

As part of the change, the service has set itself challenging diversity
targets – including more than doubling the number of ethnic minorities in the
most senior CPS posts from the 2002 figure of 5 per cent to 11 per cent by
2005.

The service is also to increase the diversity target for the chief crown
prosecutor position from 4 per cent to 7 per cent over the next three years.

Furthermore, it is trying to increase the percentage of higher and senior
executive managers from ethnic minorities from the current figure of 6 per cent
to 8.5 per cent by 2005.

Key initiative

Seehra said a key initiative has been to scrap HR-based equality officers
and devolve diversity powers to 12 senior and middle managers – based in the 10
operational areas and the London and Yorkshire headquarters.

He said the move will help break down the barriers between CPS grades and
place diversity at the heart of the organisation. He explained: "This way
the organisation and individuals are being empowered to question HR policies
and practices.

"We have got rid of traditional equal opportunities positions as it is
our belief that if individuals have an issue with diversity they will come to
personnel, there is no need to label a role ‘equal opportunities’ within HR as
it already has that background."

The service has also taken steps to improve its external image through the
recruitment of equality/diversity officers who will form links with ethnic
minority community leaders.

Seehra said this role will lead to the CPS consulting local ethnic minority
communities before making policy decisions in the long term. Training is also
to be overhauled so all courses cover diversity issues rather than the current
practice of having specific diversity training modules.

Seehra added that in a bid to increase diversity at management level,
positive discrimination will be used to encourage entrants from ethnic
minorities on a 15-month management training course, with places being held for
ethnic minority staff.

A new lawyer training scheme for administration staff is also being extended
from 30 to 200 people by 2003.

Diversity investigators

Other changes include the use of external diversity investigators to work
alongside internal investigators to increase confidence in the grievance
procedure.

An informal complaints procedure and the use of mediation in disputes on
diversity issues have been introduced and a national ethnic minority managers’
network is to be set up.

The staff attitudes’ survey will be given a diversity focus with the
introduction of a number of equal opportunities questions. The appraisal system
will also be audited in a bid to assess diversity progress.

The use of assessment centres during recruitment is to be extended – as
recommended in the Denman report.

Anticipating problems

Seehra said the CPS has not completely embraced the culture change and he
anticipated some problems over the implementation of the new approach.

"There has been an element of resistance from staff to the [Denman]
report but we have done our research and we are not surprised by this.

"We were prepared for an early stage backlash. Our staff are aware we
need to put in place [diversity] programmes, but we know that they will not
like the approach," he said.

Seehra, who leaves the CPS this week to become HR director at the Pension
Service (part of the Department of Work and Pensions), believes his tenure in
charge of CPS HR has been a success.

"We are now stronger at tackling diversity issues than when I joined 27
months ago. We have put in place the structure and personnel to support
diversity," he said.

"As an organisation we recognise and understand institutional racism
and believe we are competent at addressing the problems because we are liaising
with employees and the ethnic minority community to find solutions."

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