Target-setting misses the point on diversity

If the police want to recruit more officers from ethnic minorities, isn’t it time to stop looking for the quick fix?

The police service has been told by the Home Office to recruit 8,000 officers from ethnic minority communities by 2009, but targets for the recruitment and promotion of minorities do not work. They do not work in normal circumstances and especially not if the organisation that has set them is getting bad press for its diversity and equal opportunities record.

Last month The Guardian reported that “on average, police forces need to recruit an additional 826 officers a year to meet the 10-year targets set by the Home Office.” But in the year to March there were only 209 more from ethnic minorities.

This aim is repeated in the £7m campaign to fill the shortfall in numbers promised by the Home Office (News, 5 September).

The Metropolitan, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire forces are all behind on their targets. The West Yorkshire force has found the number of ethnic minorities has actually fallen since two years ago.

That the police service is failing in its efforts to boost ethnic minority recruitment is disappointing news, but it is not a surprise. Putting faith in targets does not address fundamental cultural areas in organisations. Our research with graduate recruitment has shown that for ethnic minority and female students the most important characteristic they consider when applying to an organisation is whether it is an equal opportunity employer. This does not appear in the top 10 characteristics sought by white, males.

The research also revealed the relative importance of two sources of an enterprise’s image, namely the recruitment image and the organisational image.

The recruitment image is entirely within an organisation’s control. It relates to factors such as adverts in newspapers, brochures, presentations and so on.

Happy, shiny, smiley faces of a diverse group of people, testimonials saying what a great place it is to work, statements about career progression. This is wonderful stuff, but with one small problem – ethnic minority students don’t believe it.

Failure to do the above will set you back in terms of perception, but doing these things only gets you to the starting line. It does not give you the significant head start the police forces would like.

The organisational image is based on other variables, for example stories in the press, programmes on TV, and, critically, word of mouth. All of these are powerful reinforcers of an organisation’s image. As they are not so easily manipulated by the organisation, they are seen to be more objective and impartial.

Consequently, they are seen to be telling the truth. If there is a constant stream of stories in the press about discrimination, in this case, in police forces, their impact will completely outweigh attempts to manipulate the recruitment image.

We have known targets are not the way forward for some time now. The research shows clearly that they not only do not achieve the organisational outcomes sought in the long-term, but also do not help individuals from the under-represented groups.

The only way to improve recruitment is to try to stop negative stories appearing in the press and on TV in the first place, and the only way to do that is to address the issues of discrimination, bias and prejudice. This takes courage, conviction and, above all, time.

The public sector constantly seeks the quick fix, high profile and cheap solutions to complex issues. While they continue with eye-catching, headline-grabbing policies, but not directing sufficient resources to the appropriate areas, these policies will continue to fail.


• Dr Binna Kandola is a partner at Pearn Kandola, occupational psychologists specialising in assessment, development and diversity

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