Barry Boffy

Barry Boffy, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at British Transport Police, answers our audience’s most burning questions following his talk at our 2019 Diversity & Inclusion Conference.

Bearing in mind the response from some of the general public on positive action, what are the police officers thoughts on this are they supportive?

Although most police officers understand the need to have better representation of the communities that we serve, not all agree with the use of Positive Action as a tool to address this.  Some of that sentiment comes from a deep misunderstanding of what Positive Action is, and isn’t.  Quite often, when officers hear the term “Positive Action”, they translate this to mean ‘discrimination’ and that we are employing discriminatory practices.  I.e. the underrepresented group will be getting preferential treatment, or that opportunities are no longer available to all.  It’s really important that when we launch a Positive Action campaign, that we clearly explain to all of our employees what this means, and in as simple language as possible.  This does help, but there are always a small minority of vocal officers opposed to this activity, even when we’ve explained that this is a) at no detriment to them and their opportunities and b) everyone is still measured on suitability using merit as the guiding principle. One of the ways we have addressed this is to stop using the terminology “Positive Action” at all.  This doesn’t change the content of what we’re doing or trying to achieve, but also doesn’t confuse officers with the thought that this is discriminatory in any way.  We’re still learning!

 

Given the social media backlash you get why do/did you focus on positive action as opposed to recruitment marketing to attract all groups

To BTP, they’re one and the same.  Recruitment marketing – effectively targeting specific groups by the use of language, medium, visuals etc. – actually IS a form of Positive Action.  Even a standard advertisement with the caveat at the bottom saying “we particularly encourage applications from BAME, females etc……” makes the advert a Positive Action message.  What we ARE doing however is removing the terminology “Positive Action” from our activity, as we think that this is confusing for most; particularly if they already have the perception that this is actually ‘Positive Discrimination’.  This change in the language that we use is actually making a difference, but I fear that this activity will always be controversial and widely misunderstood.

 

It would be interesting to understand if the backlash was more in response to the wording of the tweet rather than the image you used. I’m sure we’ll never know

True!  But based on the feedback we received at the time, and since, we think it was a combination of both.  The language and the imagery in and of themselves are quite bold (purposefully so), but when you combine the two they do seem particularly problematic!  We had feedback on both elements, so we don’t think it was any one of the two.  What we did find however was that there was real confusion in the tweet about WHAT we were advertising.  Most read this tweet as a “recruitment advert” where actually it was an invitation to attend a pre-application workshop for under-represented groups.  This is all perfectly lawful under Section 158 of the Equality Act, but people read it as “We’re advertising for officers, but only females and BAME candidates can apply”.  Clearly, the tweet, wording and imagery said nothing of the sort!

 

Why did you choose Grazia specifically and not other publications or websites aimed at females?

We actually did.  I focussed on Grazia as a good example of a gender specific publication (apologies to be stereotyping here!) that we approached.  We also had adverts in Metro newspaper, other trade publications and other publications and websites where the primary audience were the under-represented groups we were trying to reach.  Sadly, none of these were as successful as we would have liked.

 

How well attended are your pre-employment workshops?

They’re always over-subscribed, which tells us that we are reaching the right audience with our advertising.  We can generally accommodate up to around 100 attendees, but always have 120+ people turn up.

 

When referencing gender, is this just male/female or does it also cover trans, non binary etc?

We don’t do any specific Positive Action work on gender diverse communities at the moment, including trans, non-binary or agender communities.  However, we actually haven’t needed to as we do have a larger than average number of gender diverse applicants due to our previous work on engaging with these communities over the last few years.  We have a good reputation amongst police forces in the UK for being trans-inclusive.

 

How many people that attend the pre-employment workshops then apply and go on to secure roles?

On average, over 90% of all those who attend the pre-application workshops go on to complete an application form.  Those remaining either decide it’s not for them after all, or find that they aren’t eligible to apply based on UK residency criteria / vetting bars etc. which are slightly more difficult for us to adjust.  Of those who go on to secure a role, it’s somewhere around 70% to 80%.  We always work with a candidate from an under-represented group to prepare them for what to expect in the process, and we will proactively work with those who are either struggling in a particular area or have additional barriers to applying.  We may even advise a potential candidate NOT to apply during a certain recruitment window, particularly if we (and they) know that they are unlikely to pass those barriers that can’t be adjusted on a case by case basis (such as fitness testing, medical assessments etc.)

 

Once you‘ve staffed a ‘diverse’ team – how can you make sure the environment is inclusive?

This is a good question, and ultimately about creating an inclusive workforce where everyone feels valued and can bring their whole selves to work.  I’ve also answered this below to a similarly worded question.  We have, and have always had, a very clear Inclusion & Diversity Strategy which outlines our commitment to ensuring an inclusive workplace, where everyone can be their genuine self at work.  In order to deliver that, we have a huge infrastructure of support networks and working groups looking specifically at addressing any workplace culture issues that we become aware of.  We also engage with our employees regularly to ask them what the issues are, including in an annual staff survey and other confidential surveys and focus groups.  We proactively look at things like the number of grievances or number of leavers (focussing particularly on any disproportionality of our leavers) so that we can intervene whenever we see a trend or problem emerging.  We’re also committed to addressing some of the long-standing culture that exists in policing; including things like part-time / flex working opportunities, shift working, presenteeism, agile working etc. with a commitment to removing some of the barriers that have kept all of our employees from progressing and having the careers (and opportunities) that they may want.

 

Lots of examples of positive action- what was the starting point and the current position in relation to female and BAME representation?

We starting applying Positive Action in 2013, where we had a BAME police officer workforce of 6.8% and females made up only 16.11% of all police officers.

We now have (as at March 2019) 9.37% of our officers are BAME and females make up 20.93% of all officers.

We’ve seen a gradual year on year increase generally, with a noted drop in BAME workforce retention through 2017 & 2018.  However, this is now starting to increase again and is still the second highest proportion by volume of all 43 police services in the UK (next to the Met Police at number 1).  These may not seem like large increases, however we see any year-on-year increase as a huge success; particularly where we know that this is against the main trend in policing across the UK – with most ‘minority groups’ dropping in representation year on year.

Police Officers – BAME & Female
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
BAME % 6.70% 6.80% 7.50% 7.75% 8.94% 9.59% 10.40% 9.06% 9.37%
Female % 16.10% 16.11% 16.19% 16.33% 16.62% 17.35% 17.72% 20.99% 20.93%

Why would senior management take down the post? Are these the candidates they are trying hire? If not why does their opinion matter?

Sadly, we had little overall control over BTP’s social media presence as this is all controlled by our Corporate Communications Team.  They are responsible for ensuring that our social media presence is generating the right response, and is not creating any issues for BTP.  Although most departments have their own Twitter account (as an example), our Corporate Comms team have overall oversight and can intervene if there’s a sense that something hasn’t landed right or is generating reputational damage for the force.  In this instance, they reviewed the responses being generated from the Tweet and deemed it too damaging to allow it to continue and therefore chose to remove the tween and all 2.5K responses.

 

How did that campaign affect your applications across the country? What surprised you the most?

Surprisingly, we generated MORE applications from under-represented groups than any of our previous campaigns.  That was our intention, but bearing in mind the huge amount of negative responses we really didn’t expect it to work so well!

 

How do you avoid making people feel being hired only as of their color, gender, sexual identity….

Great question!  We always ensure that we provide very clear explanations of what we’re doing, what Positive Action is and how we continue to recruit the right candidates.  A big part of that is that, no matter what pre-application Positive Action work we do, people will still only be successful at paper-sift, interview and assessment centres (our three main recruitment processes) if they can demonstrate their capability based on a set Competency & Values Framework (CVF) set by the College of Policing which applies equally to ALL candidates across every police service in the UK.  Effectively, we ONLY measure success on merit and we make this very clear from the outset.  Positive Action is intended to increase the number of candidates applying, but cannot really influence directly the number of people passing the three main assessment steps.

 

What initiatives have you run to create a culture of inclusion in the workplace (to ensure the diverse talent you recruit are engaged and retained)?

That’s a great question, and one I could write a lengthy booklet in response!  We have, and have always had, a very clear Inclusion & Diversity Strategy which outlines our commitment to ensuring an inclusive workplace, where everyone can be their genuine self at work.  In order to deliver that, we have a huge infrastructure of support networks and working groups looking specifically at addressing any workplace culture issues that we become aware of.  We also engage with our employees regularly to ask them what the issues are, including in an annual staff survey and other confidential surveys and focus groups.  We proactively look at things like the number of grievances or number of leavers (focussing particularly on any disproportionality of our leavers) so that we can intervene whenever we see a trend or problem emerging.  We’re also committed to addressing some of the long-standing culture that exists in policing; including things like part-time / flex working opportunities, shift working, presenteeism, agile working etc. with a commitment to removing some of the barriers that have kept all of our employees from progressing and having the careers (and opportunities) that they may want.

 

If you don’t set diversity targets then how do you best measure progress and/or success?

Although we don’t set specific numerical ‘targets’, we know what the demographic diversity of the UK looks like and we aim to work towards achieving this.  We don’t write down “15%” as it does tend to generate perverse behaviour in our employees – always chasing the target, but not necessarily understanding why or to what end.  There also has to be some flexibility in achieving representation based on regular changes in demographics or the fact that BTP’s population is actually a transient one: all those travelling or working on the railway network.

 

With Direct Entry at senior level, how did you ‘sell’ the idea to those existing rank and file who may question the capabilities of any Direct Entrant?

That’s a difficult question to answer, as we knew that the majority of those already at senior levels had done so in the traditional (for policing) way – by working their way up the ranks over many years, developing skills and experience to where they are now.  As a result, there will always be a level of incredulity at how someone with “no experience” of policing can possibly have the skills that they would need to enter policing at senior ranks.  There will also be those that will question their ability to give a well-informed lawful order, or be able to accurately assess a live operational assessment for risks, priorities or action to be taken: all those things that some officers will argue you cannot “train”, but must accumulate with experience.

Where BTP focussed was in the additional, different skills that someone with experience outside of the organisation would bring to policing.  Effectively; diversity of thought.  This is something that everyone in policing understands is key to building a police service fit for the future, and will break the perceived homogeny of policing and police officers.  Ultimately, we WANT difference and diversity of thought, which is the best way of selling the value of Direct Entry schemes to existing employees.

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