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Does Diversity Make Good Business Sense?

We all know what the landscape is, we also know that the democratically elected government has been given a mandate to continue its cuts and most of us know the Commissioner is trying to do more for less given the extent of the cuts to come. I say most of us, as the MetFed Chair John Tully seems misguided in his opinion as to what makes good sense and fails to see the tidal wave of change that is to come; but more on the misguided Mr Tully later.

Last week I watched the new BBC1 documentary “The Met.” Over the past week I have listened to many opposing viewpoints from those in favour of the programme and those condemning it. What I guessed would have made more interesting viewing than the programme itself was the fallout from it. It appeared from my observations that the Senior Leaders in the organisation feared a rush of angry black people ready to protest about their distorted portrayal, as is usual in the mainstream media. We know the story that is usually written about us is largely negative and we’ve come to expect it. ‘We’ the ‘black community’ have always got something to be angry about, right?

The Borough Commander of Haringey, Chief Superintendent Victor Olisa, made a comparison with a neighbouring borough and the warm reception his Jewish colleague in that borough received from the Jewish community. Whilst it is unfortunate, this comment was clumsy as the experience with the Jewish community and police is very different to that of the Black community where we still have disproportionality in key areas of policing including stop and search, death in police custody and race complaints.

If police are working so hard, and I know that we are, why do we get it so wrong with Black communities? Why is it that if you are Black, Asian or come from a Minority background there is no recognition for exactly that? The Met’s recruitment strap line is ‘A police service that looks and feels like London’ so why is it that when it comes to acknowledging the ‘Race’ factor as being relevant to their strap line, the organisation does not feel that identity and the ability to relate through lived experience are key elements which should be boasted of? The ironic thing is, that’s what they say but their actions undermine this.

For the organisation not to realise that having Mr Olisa in such a key role is a selling point, is a missed opportunity to capitalise on our resources. Yes he is talented, he has made it to the Chief Superintendent rank on his own merit, but he is also Black! That has to make good business sense. However, the organisation is silent about this fact and that does not lend itself well to our Black communities or to our police officers and staff. It’s as if the Police service has no pride in its diverse workforce and therefore does not allow for its diverse workforce to have pride in themselves.

There were a number of times within the programme where the notion of having more Black officers to police an event like the Brixton Splash was looked on as a good thing. However when it was suggested that being black was one of the relevant competencies for Mr Olisa policing his borough then there appeared to be a reluctance to embrace this.

The Met needs to own the challenge, so when they say they are recruiting a service that looks and feels like London, the exercise is cost effective and it makes good business sense. With a representative workforce, you can be more effective at understanding the business as well as the customer needs. Being black is our Unique Selling Point so why don’t they grab it with both hands and celebrate it? It’s more than filling the ranks with black/brown faces, it’s about recognising the need for diversity in action.

I have also read Mr Tully’s ill thought out response to the programme. In his article he firstly lists a number of concerns by his members. He speaks of pay cuts and changes to working conditions, and he goes on to imply that these were at the behest of the Commissioner. He clearly failed to grasp that these were because of the recommendations in the Winsor Report and not at the Commissioner’s whim.

He then goes on to blame officer’s low morale on BAME officers getting unfair advantages. Perhaps morale is low because pay and conditions have been slashed, overtime is non-existent and promotion processes have been few and far between. He is silent however on the fact that BAME officers, the majority of whom are also Federation members, are statistically more likely to resign, less likely to be supported for promotion and are disproportionately more likely to receive disciplinary action, not to mention the fact that the Winsor Report has also equally affected them.

Mr. Tully seeks to explain his views on the attempts by the Met to increase diversity within the ranks, by stating that Londoners wouldn’t care about the colour of the officers who turn up when they call the Police as long as one turns up. Whilst he may have a point when its 2am as your house is being broken into, the same cannot be said for the thousands of other policing functions which are carried out daily across our capital. Considering London is likely to be at least 50% BAME at the next census, it is this precise ‘we are fine as we are’ view which repeats the same cycle of negative outcomes for minority communities.

As I mentioned earlier the benefits of having greater diversity do not just come by virtue of someone’s skin colour, it will also manifest itself in the way the organisation thinks. With diversity comes the cultural competency to deliver a service to all our communities and will go some way to building the much needed trust and confidence. Recruiting the best and the brightest from a diverse talent pool means that the Met can focus on developing officers based on their merit.

Janet Hills
Metropolitan Black Police Association

MPF | Metropolitan Police Federation | “Strong and Inspirational Leadership Required in the Met” – http://metfed.org.uk/news?id=6134