As we entered 2016, it did not take long for the first article to appear in the national press highlighting the issue of continued disproportionality in policing. Graham Smith discusses how to address the problem.

On 1 January 2016, The Guardian published an article stating that white applicants are more successful in gaining employment than those from ethnic minorities, in over two-thirds of police forces in the UK. Coming as it did on the back of a recent call from the Home Secretary to address the lack of black, Asian and ethnic minority officers in the service, it is clear that more will need to be done if the police service is to become truly representative of the communities it serves.

In response, the police service was able to highlight the impact of a lack of recent recruitment and point to improvements in representation made over the last 10 years. The reality, however, is that while these factors have played their part, disproportionality has been an issue for many years and is likely to continue to be a significant challenge for the foreseeable future. Even when recruitment was progressing at normal levels, forces were not able to fully address the issue of disproportionality and as a result, some chief constables have called for a change in the law in order to permit “positive discrimination”. To date, there has been reluctance from Government to take such a step and instead the focus has continued on “positive action” initiatives and process improvements such as “name blind” recruitment, which the Prime Minister announced for the Civil Service in November.

Ultimately, we must recognise that disproportionality is a significant issue for the service and it is not confined solely to ethnic origin. When considering what we can do within current legal frameworks, it is important, therefore, that we reflect on issues such as:

  • age

  • gender

  • disability

  • sexual orientation

  • gender reassignment

  • religion and/or belief.

As a starting point, all forces need to ensure they have ready access to detailed workforce and recruitment data in order to tailor their positive action strategies to the areas of greatest challenge.

One of the areas likely to see significant change in respect of under-representation in 2016 is age. For many forces, a focus on evidenced-based past experience in the recruitment process has led to a significant lack of young people in the workplace. The recent announcement from the Prime Minister in relation to apprenticeships in the public sector is likely to change this, as the police service is due to be part of Government plans to ensure that 2.3% of the future workforce, in large public sector employers, is made up of apprentices. For those of us that have already benefited from introducing modern apprentices into the workforce, this will be welcome news, but the financial and organisational challenge that will follow should not be underestimated.

While the Government’s proposals are currently out for consultation and are still subject to parliamentary approval, we can expect the introduction of targets in the Spring or Summer of 2016. Clearly, all forces need to participate in the consultation and make use of the available time to consider some of the associated human resources (HR) challenges, such as how to deal with engagement and ensure the development of appropriate future career paths.

While the Government’s proposals are currently out for consultation and are still subject to parliamentary approval, we can expect the introduction of targets in the spring or summer of 2016. Clearly, all forces need to participate in the consultation and make use of the available time to consider some of the associated human resources (HR) challenges, such as how to deal with engagement and ensure the development of appropriate future career paths.

The year 2015 saw the final part of the Lord Davies review into female representation at the top level of British business. While women still hold less than 10% of executive director roles, representation at board level has increased to 26% for Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 companies, in line with voluntary targets that have been set. Although this is seen as a major step forward for business, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) pointed out that the overall total of women involved was still very small and companies could quickly lose any gains they had made. While further voluntary targets are proposed to ensure the momentum is not lost, many of the countries with better representation than the UK achieved their goals by introducing legislative targets.

While the news from the boardroom is generally positive, many commentators reference the need to focus on gender challenges in the wider organisation. With the gender pay gap only improving by 0.2% in the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there is a call for more to be done to address the barriers that prevent women following a career track to the top. Continued positive action through initiatives such as flexible working and childcare provision are seen as key, but in a 24/7 emergency service such as policing, such support can sometimes be seen as incompatible with meeting business demand. In such circumstances, HR professionals need to play their part by highlighting the significant benefits associated with such initiatives and ensuring any obstacles are challenged and overcome.

Ultimately, wherever there is disproportionality, whether that be in terms of race, gender, religion, disability or any of the other protected characteristics, positive action initiatives are clearly both necessary and welcome. In times of austerity, HR professionals need to ensure that budgetary challenges do not result in cuts to funding for key initiatives such as staff support networks, mentoring programmes and targeted development plans. It does, however, need to be recognised that there are no magic solutions available. Most positive action initiatives have been tried in the past and it is highly questionable whether such programmes, on their own, will make the workplace truly representative. This does not mean that forces should not take all steps possible under current legal frameworks to address disproportionality. Far from it, until we have a change of legislation, HR professionals need to creatively use all of the positive action initiatives that are available, to play our part in addressing the continual diversity challenge that we face both as a country and as a police service.

Last reviewed 3 February 2016