There’s been some controversy (again!) in the press recently highlighting how just about every force in the country are failing with their BME police recruitment efforts.
Last year (July 15) I conducted my own analysis of the West Midlands Police Recruitment process which at the time was failing miserably to recruit from its BAME communities. The attached photograph of one of their police officer recruit intakes tells the story better than words can. I believe the problem might be what’s referred to in HR circles as ‘Unconscious Bias,’ the practice of favouring, ‘people like us.’
I suppose the big question for anyone who is of a BAME background is: ‘Should you act as if you are ‘people like them’ in order to succeed in the police recruitment process? That’s a question I can’t answer for you, however, on my seminars over the past few years I’ve coached well over 100 BAME hopefuls through the national police assessment centre. All of them were quite happy to leave their culture and background at the assessment centre gate if it meant they would get into the job. This is not an ideal scenario and one I believe has to change. Read on and please feel free to comment:
It surprised me to hear the other day that only 30% of BME applicants to West Midlands Police (WMP) passed the recent initial telephone interviews that are part of the WMP police officer recruitment process.
WMP are really doing all they believe they can to ensure, in the words of their PCC, David Jamieson, the make up of the force, ‘looks like the public it serves.’
However, in a recent media interview the PCC revealed that out of the most recent 162 officers recruited 139 were white, 13 Asian, 7 recorded as ‘mixed race,’ and just 1 black. After all of their efforts only 13% of the recent intake were from a BME background.
Not quite looking like the public it serves where the BME population is 34% increasing to 45% in some areas. The number of BME officers in WMP currently stands at 8.8% – quite a gap to close.
So why is it so important to WMP to achieve a greater balance of BME recruits? A recent internal report highlights how:
‘To achieve legitimacy in policing the West Midlands we need to have a more representative police force… At the present time the police do not represent the public owing to the above disproportionality. The issue of police legitimacy can, therefore, be questionable in certain communities and very much links into their trust and confidence in policing.’
WMP appear to have been really busy in doing all they believe they can to enable more BME candaidates to succeed in the recruitment process. The below is a summary of their strategy according to the internal documents referred to above:
A Targeted marketing campaign
Utilising an analysis of the demographic populations across the West Midlands using the most recent census data they identified the geographical locations with the highest BME population.
Recruitment events were then targeted at these areas with activities such as visiting local places of worship and high footfall areas. BME police officers from WMP were also utlilised with a strong media and YouTube presence.
Support for candidates through the process including:
Positive action discovery days
Over 4000 BME candidates were provided with an overview of the recruitment process including: eligibility criteria, application process, Situational Judgement Test, vetting and operational policing. They were even shown a video of a telephone interview so that they would know what to expect.
Pre-assessment centre and networking days
Prior to the National Police Recruit Assessment Centre BME candidates were invited to a pre-assessment centre and networking day where they were provided with, ‘a detailed input and breakdown of all components of the assessment centre, with the opportunity to spend more time on any one element with an expert in that area.’
They were also assigned specially selected ‘police buddies’ to support them throughout the rest of the process.
So why didn’t all of this activity work beyond 13%? And why have only 30% of all recent BME candidates succeeded at the telephone interview when the figure for all candidates succeeding is 40%?
The answer might be (although it could also be for a host of other reasons) unconscious bias.
This phenomenon is described by tmp (the organisation who were procured by WMP to run the recruitment process) as:
‘…. biases that influence our thoughts and behaviours without our awareness. These biases
can influence our decision making automatically and are often triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, without all of the relevant information and instead are informed by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.’
Tmp describe the recruitment process they designed in one of their internal documents. How the telephone interviews were run through a ‘dedicated team of Resource Co-ordinators at their Bristol Delivery Centre.’ The telephone interview was described as:
‘…. designed to assess motivations, communication and core competencies critical in the role. All telephone interviews were conducted by our dedicated team in our Delivery Centre who kept the West Midlands Police brand and culture at the forefront of their minds.’
Which leads to the questions I have no answer for:
To what extent did unconscious bias influence the telephone interviews?
While having the WMP brand and culture at the ‘forefront of their minds,’ to what extent did the telephone interviewers in Bristol understand the complexities of the ethnic make up of the West Midlands region?
What % of the interviewers were BME?
Would the result have been any different if the background of the interviewers was made up of at least 34% (the % of BME residents in West Midlands) BME?
May be it was?
In which case, is there another reason why WMP and other forces, despite their best efforts, just don’t seem to be able to bridge the BME gap in their recruitment processes?