What’s the difference?

Hertfordshire Constabulary’s diversity training is based on challenging
stereotypes. Roisin Woolnough reports

When police staff at HertfordshireConstabulary attend the force’s diversity
training days, they don’t simply talk about matters of colour and ethnicity.
They perform exercises such as standing on one side of the room if they have
children; are smokers; are married, and so on. They are given a diversity
‘bingo sheet’, whereby each person has to find people in the room who
correspond to various categories – such as being a single parent, or having had
a parking fine in the past six months.

Nic Sale, consultant at occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola, who helped
deliver the training, says the idea is to get everyone thinking about diversity
in a different way. "It is about challenging people’s understanding of
what diversity is about and all the ways in which people can be different,"
explains Sale. "We didn’t want it to be some amorphous thing out there, so
first we get them thinking about their own diversity within the group."

Police forces across the country have been working hard to address diversity
issues since the publication of the Macpherson report. ‘Welcoming Diversity’ is
one of the Hertfordshire force’s eight core values, but to achieve this goal,
senior management felt it was necessary to establish exactly what that meant
for all employees.

The project began a couple of years ago when the HR team put their heads
together to work out how to deliver diversity training that was fresh,
challenging and pertinent to Hertfordshire Constabulary. "We needed to
update our thinking and refresh the organisation’s own values," says
Pauline Lawrence, head of HR. "It was a case of: ‘Let’s think about what
these words mean’."

The team went straight to the top, to the force’s management board, to
discuss what its diversity statement actually meant. "We explored how
diversity is different from equal opportunities and what it means in the
context of this organisation," explains Lawrence.

They also drew extensively from the experiences and opinions of the
constabulary’s staff and the community it serves. Research was carried out
through focus groups and questionnaires to find out what the diversity issues
were. A draft statement was then drawn up that was sent out to external groups
such as the Commission for Racial Equality and internal staff, to see what they
thought.

The research identified three groups with different training needs. First,
there was a basic generic training need for all 3,200 staff. This looked at the
issue of stereotypes, where they come from and how they can be broken down.
"We get people to recognise what prejudices they may have, and how other
people might stereotype them," says Sale. "We also have some
real-life case studies around diversity issues that have cropped up in other
police forces around the country, so we discuss those, too."

There is also a focus on what the ‘Welcoming Diversity’ statement means to
people and how it can benefit staff. Sale thinks the fact that it is one of the
force’s core values, and the only one that has been made into a poster, is a
critical factor in the success of the training.

Roger Barrett, who is HR development manager at the constabulary and has
been heavily involved with the project, agrees. "People have to realise
what the values mean from an organisation’s point of view and how they fit in
with that," he says.

According to Barrett, another key factor behind the project’s success is
that he has been overseeing a lot of work on leadership, redefining values,
competencies and the performance management framework at the same time.
"It is all about how you treat people and link all these things
together," he says.

While the training does look briefly at the legislative requirements on
diversity, the main emphasis is on provoking debate and challenging attitudes.
"It is not about filling people with more knowledge. Police staff already
have to cram their brains full of information," says Barrett.

All staff have now been through this training programme, and it has been
altered to become part of the induction training package for all new hires.

The second group with specific diversity training needs is police officers
who have a lot of contact with the public. There are roughly 750 police
officers who regularly deal with incidents such as ‘hate’ crimes, and the
training for them is ongoing. "We get the team to identify which part of
the community they feel they are not serving or reaching properly, then we look
at how they can best address those issues," explains Sale. "We have
workshops on a quarterly basis to discuss how it is going."

The third group is those with line management responsibilities and for them,
the training is all about how to manage a diverse workforce and deal with the
impact of diversity. This means covering areas such as how best to respond to
complaints of harassment or bullying.

Olu Ogunsakin, an expert on race relations, is responsible for evaluating
the project, and believes there are several important reasons why the training
has been successful. "This is the only time I’ve been involved in a
project before the training begins," he says. "I’m not waiting until
the end, as with many programmes. That in itself is worthy of praise."

What is also unusual about this set-up is that Ogunsakin is free to drop
into training sessions as and when he likes. "I can come in and attend training
without any prior notice so that it’s not staged, which is very unusual."

Ogunsakin also went out into the community to talk to people about what they
thought of the constabulary and what the real issues were. Now that the initial
training has been completed, he intends to question the community again to see
if they have noticed any improvements.

Each month, Ogunsakin has met with Barrett, Lawrence and Sale to discuss how
the training is progressing, which has resulted in a few changes. The first was
the removal of some of the more personal questions regarding the diversity of
the workforce itself.

"We took out some of the original questions, such as ‘move forward if
you are gay’, or ‘if you have a degree’," says Ogunsakin. "This was
because we had to be sensitive to delegates, or it could affect their learning
for the rest of the day."

Another amendment was to ensure that the training groups were made up of
people from different departments. "That way, they could learn from one
another," says Ogunsakin. "We needed to break down the sub-cultures,
because otherwise it hampered learning," he explains.

Ongoing feedback from the training has been very positive, and Ogunsakin
says employees feel much more confident and comfortable discussing issues among
the community and colleagues that historically they may have shied away from.
His research shows that at the end of a day’s training session, 87 per cent of
the delegates get all the answers right to a questionnaire, compared with only
five per cent in the morning, and 75 per cent say they have learned something
new.

One of the things that delegates have found the most useful is an exercise
at the end of the day that encourages them to encapsulate their learning
through a creative medium. Many people have designed posters, while others have
written poetry or plays. "Most people said doing the posters pulled it
together for them," says Sale.

The posters are displayed on an intranet site dedicated to diversity issues,
and staff have been asked to vote for the best one. Twelve of them are now
being put together to create a 2005 desk calendar for all the staff. According
to Lawrence, it is all about reinforcing the message and keeping the issue
alive.

He says senior management has been committed to the project, particularly
the chief executive. Ogunsakin agrees. "Senior managers’ commitment has
been very high and demonstrated at all levels," he says. "They’ve
attended all the workshops."

An evaluation report is now underway, and the results will be circulated
among staff and taken to the board for input.

Critical factors contributing to the success of the project

– Independent, expert evaluation from the beginning of the
project

– Senior-level commitment and visibility

– Consolidating learning through exercises such as getting
staff to design posters

– Assessing the project as it progressed and being prepared to
make changes

– Getting input from many areas – management, the workforce and
the community

HR lessons learned

– Put in a lot of time and effort at the beginning in getting
people to understand what you are trying to do

– Don’t underestimate the amount of time, energy and resources
needed

– Evaluate the success of the training as it progresses and be
prepared to make changes

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