Expert comment: ‘Black police reporting racism labelled troublemakers’

Dr Maddy Wyatt is Lecturer in Human Resource Management & Organisational Behaviour at Kent Business School, University of Kent and comments on the following recent BBC news item:

Black police reporting racism ‘labelled troublemakers’

“Despite the Mcpherson report highlighting institutional racism in the police force 13 years ago, a recent internal report discussed on BBC’s ‘File on 4’ programme suggests that there remains significant diversity and inclusion concerns across the service. This research has identified that little progress has been made towards recruiting, retaining and promoting ethnic minority officers, and that several forces across the U.K. appear to unfairly and disproportionally discipline black and Asian officers compared to their white colleagues.

In order to be representative of the U.K. working population, the police force should comprise 9.5% ethnic minority officers, but the report suggests figures stand at less than 5%. A greater disparity is apparent at senior ranks, where ethnic minority representation is as low as 1.3%. These figures are particularly concerning as the police service should be representative of the communities they serve. However, according to the office for national statistics (2011) the career progression of ethnic minority workers is not a concern unique to the police service, but is in fact a problem for many U.K. organisations.

The police service has put into place more rigorous recruitment, selection and promotion processes to increase representation of minority groups and have emphasised the importance of equality and diversity policies including methods to reduce bias against non-white employees in workplace assessments. We know from organisational research that providing role models at senior levels and enhancing representation of minority groups more generally helps to reduce conflict between different ethnic groups in the workplace and creates a positive climate for diversity. Therefore these actions should go some way towards reducing institutional racism in the police service.

However, drawing on career research, we also know that the barriers to ethnic minority advancement are often the informal aspects of organisations, rather than formal assessments and procedures. A significant body of research has identified that access to informal workplace networks, informal developmental relationships with seniors, such as sponsorship and mentoring, and being introduced and taught how to navigate the political side of organisational life are all key areas that can help ethnic minority groups to progress. Therefore, in order to tackle the lack of progression and retention of ethnic minority officers, the police need to develop methods to enhance integration of minority officers into the informal organisational environment and create a culture that highlights inclusion rather than difference.”

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