Leadership: A different beat

The term ‘training initiative’ falls somewhat short of the scale of work being carried out by Denise Milani (pictured left) and her team. ‘Initiative’ suggests a short-term, perhaps limited impact intervention – something introduced to address a short-term need and dropped when that need is met. But as deputy director of the Diversity Directorate at the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), Milani is looking to create a greater impact.

“Many organisations still define diversity in a very limited way,” she says. “I see it as re-engineering organisations. It’s about changing organisations and bringing people who have been traditionally disempowered or at the margins to the table, helping them to shape policy, and determine the way an organisation is run.”

Milani’s association with the MPS began in 1999, when she took a six-month secondment to work on developing the recruitment and retention of ethnic minority police officers. This position involved the creation of the MPS’s Positive Action Team, and was part of the force’s response to the Macpherson inquiry, following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. With the termination of her secondment, and looking to return to her local government position, Milani was encouraged to apply for head of the Positive Action Team and was successful in getting the post.

The service was being encouraged to increase the recruitment of police and staff from ethnic minority communities, but Milani detected a flaw in the team’s remit.

“Retention and progression was more about what was happening in the organisation once these people were recruited,” she says.
“HR data was telling us a disproportionate number of people joining from ethnic minority communities were actually leaving the organisation – so common sense said there was probably something wrong at home.”

Milani’s belief that something could be done to address this issue resulted in the creation of DOIT – the Development and Organisation Improvement Team – which has now become part of the Diversity Directorate. The gradual evolution of her position reflects the ever-widening remit of Milani’s work. Her team now works for the recognition of a much wider range of the MPS’ minority employees, dealing with representation according to gender, disability, sexual orientation, age and faith as well as race.

“The team sees itself as part of the diversity strategy, which is about changing the experience of working for the MPS – in particular, for the under-represented groups,” says Milani. “At the same time, this work will also affect the operational experience for the people of London.”


At the centre of Milani’s approach is the desire to instigate real change. She wants to impact the working lives of people in the force, rather than create a superficial change that leaves the overall operation untouched.

“I’ve always worried about what in essence the quality side of the diversity debate is,” she says. “You increase the number of black staff, for example, and they stay with the organisation, but does the organisation really change? I think the answer is no. It changes in terms of the presence of those people, but it doesn’t in terms of the experience for those people. It doesn’t affect the decision-making process.”

In the case of gender, Milani and her team have introduced a raft of interventions to enhance the recognition of women in the service, and make it easier for them to influence and contribute to the workplace.

According to Milani, the MPS is traditionally designed to employ men. Nationally, the proportion of women make up just 16% of its workforce, and Milani recognises the same issue of progressing through the ranks applies to them as much as it does to other minority groups.

“When we look at our HR data, we know where the glass ceilings are,” she says. “We know how far women are going.”

Addressing this directly, the MPS has worked with Springboard Consultancy to introduce a version of the consultancy’s Spring Forward course to a target audience of female police sergeants and inspectors and their staff equivalents. The course runs under the title of the Female Personal Development and Leadership Programme (FPDLP).

“The course addresses the women who are more likely to move on if their aspirations aren’t met, or those who may not even have thought about their future,” explains Milani. “We recognise at a certain stage there’s a plateau in the organisation – and we want to get women past that stage. It can be easier on the police staff side, because you can recruit directly at any level of the organisation, but with police officers, you have to grow them through the ranks, and we’re responsible for that process.”

Crucially, the FPDLP is delivered by women who work in the MPS itself. Having experienced the Spring Forward course themselves, a total of 12 women undertook further training to become licensed trainers within the MPS. Since May 2005, they have been delivering the course at five sites around London. According to Tracy Ampah, one of Milani’s colleagues who manages the FPDLP, 2005-2006 will see 500 women undergoing this programme – which will require 28 courses to be delivered.

“There hasn’t been any specific tailoring of the course as a police training course per se,” she says. “Indeed, some of the women have been pleasantly surprised that you turn up to the course and don’t have to spend time talking about your role in the police force.”


The FPDLP is a process that takes three months to complete. It consists of a two-day workshop, and a single-day workshop two months later, and facilitates visualisation work for setting short and long-term career goals. Above all, it encourages a positive and self-motivating attitude in the individual to reach new goals. There is also some discussion of leadership skills – a feature that Milani regards as particularly important.

“We are pioneering and marketing the change agenda at all levels of the organisation,” she says. “The biggest development is around our leadership skills. We don’t see leadership as a matter of seniority – we want to get to a position where staff understand they are leading, wherever they are in the organisation. Women need to feel they have permission to change something, improve something and be part of something.”

Echoing the fact that this is about progression as much (if not more) than recruitment and retention, Milani makes a comparison between the attitudes of men and women to job advertisements.

Through analysis of internal promotions, the directorate has discovered that when a male candidate sees a job description and realises they have some but not all of the required competencies, they still apply for the post, believing they will receive the appropriate training and support to enable them to meet those other competencies. Women faced with the same advertisement and the same deficiency in competencies don’t apply, because they do not meet the requirements.

“The opportunity is there for both,” says Milani. “Therefore, we have to manage the mind set and that’s to do with leadership.”

With each of the MPS’s new trainers taking a week out to gain their qualification, and future FPDLP participants looking to devote time to this development work, Milani is keenly looking for an appropriate return on the Diversity Directorate’s investment.

“We see this as a process to enable each participant to go back to their job and be more efficient at what they do,” she says. “It provides a time to reflect and grow and enhance what they do on a day-to-day basis.”

Ampah says: “The Spring Forward FPDLP course was evaluated both by the Springboard Consultancy and by the MPS. It was given an incredibly favourable evaluation – women were practically fighting to get on the course.”


Evaluation will continue as the programme is rolled out, ensuring that participants get the support they need to succeed in this male-dominated workplace for years to come.

“The link between training and diversity development needs to be long-term,” says Denise Milani. “We’re running coaching programmes, mentoring programmes, focus groups and even simple exercises where you can just sit down and talk about the issues. We have extremely creative people who will suggest new interventions we can make, and we’re always open to new ideas.”

The home secretary set the MPS the target of employing a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community it serves by 2009, and while this is not unachievable, it may be more difficult to show the organisation operates without prejudice in the way Milani hopes. The MPS is not unique in the difficulties it is having supporting minorities in the workplace, but it is among the few organisations that are taking radical action to make a step change.

“Workforce data will show you we don’t have an issue with retention any more so something we’ve done over the past couple of years has made people think they can come back to this organisation,” says Milani. “Morale has really been raised from where it was in 1999. We now have a positive agenda, and our people are at the heart of it.”

Gender Programmes at the MPS

Flexible Working

The Diversity Directorate worked with the MPS’s HR Directorate to rethink and relaunch the flexible work policy – an area that has greater impact on female employees.

Childcare co-ordinator

The MPS has appointed a single person responsible for co-ordinating childcare provision across the capital. This was previously left to individual boroughs and command units. As a result, the MPS’ provision of childcare was patchy and difficult to provide.

Dancing on the glass ceiling

A three-part consultation exercise started in 2004, beginning with the collection of the opinions and experiences of 1,000 women working at the MPS.

Dancing partners

The second part of this exercise has just taken place, gathering the opinions of 250 male MPS employees to find out how men feel about the gender issue.

Dancing together

The third part of the process will bring together feedback from both groups to identify clear paths ahead to promote better working relationships.

Ethnic minority women

A support and development programme has also been introduced to recognise and empower ethnic minority women working in the MPS.

CV Denise Milani

  • 2003 Metropolitan Police Service, executive director, Diversity Directorate
  • 2001 Metropolitan Police Service, director, Development and Organisation Improvement Team
  • 2000 Metropolitan Police Service, head, Positive Action Team
  • 1999 Metropolitan Police Service, strategic adviser to the Positive Action Team
  • 1990 Greater London Employers’ Association, junior trainer/adviser/consultant/senior consultant
  • 1997 London Borough of Lambeth, head of corporate training (secondment)
  • 1988 London Borough of Ealing Project, African-Caribbean education advisory teacher
  • 1986 San Dona, Di Piave, Italy, teacher of English as a second language
  • 1980 London Borough of Brent, English teacher, Aylestone Secondary School

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