Put diversity at the heart of everything we do and how we do it

I am perturbed about diversity. It seems like as long as we are seen to be ticking the diversity boxes, that’s alright. But it is not. Diversity is not an optional extra. Neither is it the latest gizmo. Whether in the public or commercial sector, we live in a diverse world and our organisations need to reflect better the customers and communities we serve.

But if diversity ends up just being a whizzy equal opportunities statement that extols all that the good employer might do, it is pointless. Diversity is much more than well meaning but actionless commitment. It should be at the heart of what we do and how we do it.

The Metropolitan Police has more written about it than any other business. Much of it is about diversity of race, gender, people with disabilities, working arrangements, faith, sexual preference, lifestyle. Diversity is important to success, reputation and profitability. We should not regard it simply as a nice thing to do, as a statement or a target. Rather we ‘do’ diversity because our businesses will be better served for having workforces that are diverse in all respects.

That is why I am bemused by the recent fuss about the Commission for Racial Equality’s Trevor Phillips and his involvement with Rare Recruitment. I have no experience of Rare Recruitment, but Phillips should not be pilloried simply because he supports an organisation that helps to deliver diversity.

After all, that is his job.

The benefits for an organisation such as the Met are obvious. We inspire more confidence if we look like the public we serve, so it is really important that we do all we can to achieve that aim. But if we are to get there more quickly, we need assistance, and in this respect the law does not help.

Over the past three years, the Met has doubled its number of ethnic minority police officers. In the past two years alone, nearly 20% of recruits have come from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. These are the highest levels ever, although our current black and minority ethnic workforce total of 7.5% sounds a long way from the Home Office 2009 target of more than 25%, as does matching it to the 40% economically-active ethnic minority population in London.

If we are to make real progress and look like the population we serve, we need to positively discriminate. But we cannot do so. The law does not allow it. There are many downsides to positive discrimination – I understand many of them and it would require top quality HR to counter them.

But positive action alone, worthy though it is, is insufficient to crank up the pace at which we need to change. The truth is I haven’t heard a better alternative to positive discrimination.

Many employers have trendy equal opportunities statements, yet few have really taken the diversity agenda to heart. Is this because it is too hard? Are we playing political games or are we, despite the overwhelming evidence, unconvinced by the argument that a diverse workforce can be profitable and make good business sense?

The HR challenge has to be to raise the game, to forget diversity as a policy and instead regard it as an attitude that is part of our organisational culture. It demands leadership, not words. It requires movement beyond the statement, adoption of a different mindset and a respect about values. Unfortunately, many tend to regard it as a cost, a restriction. Most offensively, some regard it as political correctness.

In the Met, our efforts on the diversity front are considerable and, in some areas, cutting-edge, but they are still not enough. Both inside the Met and elsewhere, we all need to do more. HR must take the lead – if we don’t, no one else will.

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