In defence of the Police Service record on diversity

The debate about the departmental lead for diversity – and whether it should be within HR or not – is a distraction, which is why I don’t agree with the views expressed in Tony Pettengell’s Off Message article ‘Cop a load of that’ (Personnel Today, 25 September).

Like many things in HR, this debate misses the point. The real issue is about demonstrating and enacting the business case for diversity. It is a strong and compelling case, but discussions about whether HR leading it or not makes all the difference is, frankly, a diversion.

Different strokes

What suits one organisation may not suit another. And do tell me of any other single structural solution that has ever resolved a problem. Whether HR or someone else is in the driving seat is irrelevant unless there is an overwhelming drive from the top.

I have written to Trevor Phillips since his statement on this, and he doesn’t disagree.

In my own organisation, I don’t have the overall lead for diversity, but that hardly stops me developing the overall plan and achieving the success we have for recruitment and retention. Nor does it stop me championing diversity or arguing the business benefits. And no-one can fail to be impressed by the diversity that we have achieved.

The comment about ‘seizing the wrong man… yet again’ sounds like a soundbite to me. Am I driven by diversity targets? Overwhelmingly no. Do we regret the fact that an innocent man was shot? Overwhelmingly yes. But we do have a job to keep London safe. In that respect, the ludicrous suggestion that a focus on targets caused the shooting of ‘a hardworking migrant electrician’ – and its linkage with the location of diversity in HR departments – is an intellectual point beyond my comprehension.

Cultural change

Which brings me to my final point about the Off Message article. It was the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the subsequent investigation, when the ‘institutionally racist’ tag was first written. Yes we were – and frankly, some will think we still are. But we have come a long, long way since then, and bluntly, there but for the grace of God go most organisations.

It is not that I’m complacent. But meaningful cultural change that goes beyond the superficial takes time… and even more time. We have done much to overcome that tag, and we are not there yet. But to glibly call us in the Police Service institutionally racist without any apparent knowledge of what we have done, how far we have come, or an assessment of where we might end up, is unfairly critical and misrepresenting.

Embracing diversity

We have done more here to embrace diversity than any other organisation of which I am aware. And that is a fair few. Often, it gets called ‘political correctness’, which is a shame, for it relegates the good things happening into a pointless debate.

One in four of all new recruits now comes from black and minority ethnic communities 30% of our community support officers and special constables are ethnic minorities our attrition rates between ethnic minority and white staff are now equal and we have better systems and a success rate of flexible working than any other organisation I know.

We were named ‘Employer of the Year’ earlier this year by work-life balance charity Working Families on the strength of those changes. And talking of employer of the year, who would have predicted the Met being named as such by readers of the Pink Paper. But that happened this year, too.

If all this comes over defensively, it probably is. But I am right to defend an organisation that can genuinely take some pride in trying to take diversity out of the rhetorical, and into the reality.

Martin Tiplady, director of HR, Metropolitan Police and vice-president (diversity), CIPD

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