New notions of diversity: Internal bias and the role of leaders
I recently came across a definition of diversity on the internet that really resonated with me. It broke down the term diversity into three parts and moved beyond the association of the term with race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality by recognising research conducted with Millennials who define the term differently. The definition made inclusive, factors such as diversity of thought and experience. I am not sure if it is just Millennials that think like this about diversity, indeed I am certainly not one and I, many of my colleagues and friends would consider diversity exactly as this describes it. Such interpretations identify the issues ‘within and between’ demographics that impact on one’s social identity and indeed, the way we see and experience the world around us. The three areas identified in this definition are:
- Legacy Diversity – race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability and sexuality
- Experiential diversity – physical and social identities and the impact those identities have on life histories and experiences
- Thought diversity – how neural makeup and lived experiences impact problem solving
Hold that thought….
Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend and speak at the Kent Police diversity and inclusion event organised by ACC Jo Shiner. The day was attended by over 400 people: police officers, specials, cadets, IAG members, the PCC and others – all there by choice (there was no mandated expectation of attending) to hear a number of speakers talk on issues of diversity in the workplace. The papers covered leadership, change and staff inclusion within change, intentionality, authenticity and a number of ideas developed in other industries about how to develop inclusion strategies within organisations. The aim being to genuinely encourage flexible working practice, innovative recruitment processes and more. It was a great event and I took a lot away from it, not least because I could link some of the issues discussed to the police environment and some of my own research.
Returning to my statement about diversity above, the paper that I really identified with was on unconscious bias and associated issues. The speaker from @laughology described four layers of unconscious bias that really made me think differently about the concept in the context of policing.
How often do we assume when we hear the term unconscious bias, that it refers to external stereotyping? Stereotypes about race, victims, young people etc. rather than bias internally, within the organisation about policing roles and its’ people. Understanding these layers of bias in the context of police leadership and ‘real’ shared leadership seems central to me when thinking about police leaders. In fact, having delivered a paper myself an hour before @laughology spoke, the cross overs to the development of real learning environments, accepting and encouraging new ideas and innovation was clear.
I could not help, resulting from my own background and identity, but align some of these thoughts up with my professional persona in academia and how such considerations of bias link to the way we view the development and capturing of police knowledge. Therefore, please excuse me for linking some of the next part of this blog into the notion of police ‘professionalisation’ and, subsequently, academia.
The speaker talked through four areas of unconscious bias which I want to try and relate to internal police issues that may impact on effective and successful change within policing. For those of you reading this, you might have already considered these links and if you have please share them with me, comment, email me and let me have your thoughts. However, for what it is worth here are mine.
- Affinity bias
Affinity bias links to decisions we make about working with people we like, those we have commonality with and those that perhaps share our way of seeing the social and working environment within which we operate. How often do we hear in policing, on social media via research etc. that promotion processes favour certain ideas and within a team, favour certain people? How many senior leaders and middle managers align themselves with ‘people like them’ who endorse their own views and opinions as opposed to opening up challenge and new insights.
Policing, for a number of reasons, is a risk averse organisation and often delivers change by attempting to do what it has always done better as opposed to trying something different. If there really is a genuine commitment to incorporate learning and creativity within policing this bias needs to change. Surrounding yourself with those who agree with you will not improve efficiency, embrace complex thinking or new collaborations and will likely hinder the true development of a culture of enquiry.
Of course there are instances where previous methods of working are successful and such experiences need to be captured. However, the ongoing perception amongst many officers is that ideas are often ‘doomed to succeed’. This can silence innovators and refute challenge. Leaders at all levels need to embrace their rebels and capture their ideas before their motivations are quashed, they become cynical and / or leave. Hindering the development or inclusion of people and other partners who are diverse in their ideas and knowledge may inhibit the growth of a more energetic team who actually want to question and challenge such normal modes of working.
- Confirmation bias
How often is stereotyping and bias used in decision making? Usually related to those demographics and characteristics of diversity – what if we relate this to knowledge, embedded forms of practice and / or decisions based on previous experiences. These may include issues around certain categories of, for example, victims or people with mental ill health. An unwillingness to expose ourselves to new forms of knowledge that might help move beyond such confirmation bias is of course something that I associate with as an academic, particularly one who writes about police investigation of rape.
Research in this area of policing is extensive, particularly on victim typologies that leave the system (Stanko and Williams, 2009). Yet capturing the experience and voices of officers in this space both in terms of academic literature and internal change programmes is a rarity (plug here publications coming). Actually using simple metrics to consider whether something works or is improving can perpetuate the use of such stereotypes in police work as officers rely on what might produce ‘the result’. Interestingly officers I spoke to for my research knew very well that this was not really dealing with the problems that attrition research had revealed about vulnerable victims and outcomes. Unless leaders and those developing change use the voices of their officers to examine the problem rather than simply review the metrics. If they do not there is a chance that stereotypes linked to certain outcomes will confirm the very bias that the police are seeking to dispel through the concept of reflective practice and professionalisation.
- Insider – outsider bias
Many researchers operating ‘outside’ of the organisation they are researching reflect to other academics about how they feel when researching the police. The academic community are encouraged in their writing to use reflection and discuss this in the context of their research findings and analysis. However, how often do those operating within and alongside the police share their feelings about how someone has really made them feel with those that made them feel it? Yesterday’s conference featured a very poignant video developed by Deloitte about fair treatment at work and the masks we might put on featured heavily. How many times are we expected to except something as healthy banter and ‘a joke’ when in reality that might be silencing someone, effecting their well-being, productivity and life outside of work. Group dynamics are difficult in policing and this can relate to not just physical diversity but also to those that think a little differently within their working context.
Just in my experience of listening to officers about their learning, their opportunity to use that knowledge, their desire to change things and their new ideas I have heard the word silenced, not interested, too many times. A little like the notion of the dialogue of the deaf we hear in my world it also operates within the police as well as with the police and ‘outsiders’. Police officers can also be made to feel like outsiders if within a group dynamic they are seen as different, quirky and too challenging. Leaders need to hold people accountable for this. Whilst healthy banter is seen by officers as a coping mechanism, reflecting on how it is making everyone within that group dynamic feel is important for the purposes of true inclusion in any given group relationship.
- Systemic bias
How many internal systems and processes can confirm a certain set of working rules that might favour certain groups and ways of thinking. Notions of what constitutes good police work have been debated over many years. However, if there really is a serious commitment to changing the way policing is done and really addressing quality work in performance frameworks seriously, surely leaders need to authenticate their ideas and vision through the systems operating within the organisation. Much has been written about the way systemic bias can limit opportunities and inclusion to certain police roles but it can also limit certain roles being seen as credible within the police hierarchy.
Change to systems underpin the effective delivery of a mission within organisations. Unless they reflect the changes legitimately they will compound limitations of change and real inclusion. Techniques of evaluation which focus on only quantity numbers cannot be achieved in certain police roles such as victim care. This can undermine the importance of such roles and limit learning, what might be good practice and perhaps promotion as those in these roles struggle to prove credibility as a result of their working choices. I am sure there are a number of examples of this but the implications of not reviewing these systems will clearly further limit the opportunity to try new things, capture good ideas and most importantly develop police knowledge from those doing the job.
I am quite sure the information written here is not new but it is worth considering in the changing world of police professionalism. Embracing experiential difference and diversity of thought in definitional terms is not enough. Such words and terminology needs legitimising through actions and a change to behaviour at all levels. Culture can be a considered excuse but people and their actions influence culture.
There is perhaps a developed culture of acceptance about the way things just are. Normalising actions and behaviour through certain leadership styles and an unwillingness to change behaviour more legitimately excludes. It excludes not just certain groups and individuals within the service but also certain forms of new ideas coming into the police and the knowledge being created by the most important people within this conversation – the officers themselves. As other working environments have discovered simply delivering training on these forms of bias rarely works effectively. It is only by actually listening to staff, changing and challenging behaviours, holding people accountable, establishing systems that support these requirements and realising the benefits of doing so that things will really change and leadership will become authenticated.
Well done and thankyou to Kent Police for organising a great day! It certainly got my small brain cells ticking along :0)