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Promotion and diversity: 'focus on practical as well as aspirational'

President of the NBPA, Andy George, spoke to Police Oracle about the ongoing work to ensure promotion processes are fair for those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

PSNI Chief Inspector Andy George told Police Oracle that there needs to be a greater focus on practical support as well as the “aspirational” work that is already out there. 

“Aspirational is about bringing the likes of Neil Basu and other senior officers from ethnically diverse backgrounds in to inspire people,” Chief Insp George explained. 

“It's brilliant to hear somebody's journey [and that’s important in the early stages to attract people for promotion] - but I also need the practical skills - How do I prepare? How do I align things in with the Competency and Values Famework for example? 

“That's the bit that really prepares people to go through the assessment centre.”

He told Police Oracle that part of this need for more practical support has stemmed from the different networks available to officers. 

“Whenever you come into policing from a Black, Asian or other Ethnic Minority background the research and evidence tends to say that you don't have the same type of networks that others do.

“When I joined policing, I was one of the majority in Northern Ireland from a Protestant background. So I was able to tap into friends and family that help you with the practical skills of how to identify a good board example, how you then structure your board question, how you link it to the Competency Values Framework. 

“From a positive action point of view, for me, that's what’s missing in all of the offerings.” 

Around two years ago, the College reduced the number of exercises at the Fast Track Centre - a move Chief Insp George thinks was to try and focus on those that had the highest success rate for ethnic minority candidates. 

For the last two years, the NBPA has worked with the College during pilot sessions for exercises on the Fast Track courses. 

NBPA members look over them to make sure they’re culturally competent and then the exercises are further tested by members in order to make sure they are fair for everyone. 

Chief Insp George also sits in a number of working groups with the College for senior selection, fast track and direct entry. He wants to convey the lived experience around what it’s like to go through a test or assessment centre. 

One element of that is the diversity of the assessors themselves. 

“There's a saying that you have to see it to believe it, which I don't always [stand by] because you also need to be the first at times as well,” Chief Insp George said. 

“But seeing somebody that looks like you, who you can almost feel a little bit of rapport with [that can help]. 

“There can be this mindset that there's evidence you don't get through these assessments as much, there’s evidence that there could be bias. If you're reading things like that in newspapers but then you see somebody from an ethnically diverse background in front of you - it can give you a little bit more confidence that you will be treated fairly.”

Meanwhile, from the assessor side of things - having people work alongside different people - even just through lunchtimes at the assessment centres - encourages sharing of perspectives and lived experiences therefore increasing cultural awareness more generally.

Chief Insp George added that his view doesn’t mean he thinks there are assessors saying they don’t want to pass candidates from certain backgrounds, but that diversity can help even with things like misunderstandings arising from cultural differences or through English being a second language. 

Taking this step, however, is not necessarily straightforward. With assessment centres lasting days, it can be difficult to get time away from operational duties. 

Work is ongoing to widen the pool of assessors and the College are also now reaching out to external assessors. 

“Sometimes applications or details on how you can become an assessor isn't as widely available as it should be,” Chief Insp George said. 

“If it goes out to forces, that can sometimes be given to people that senior leaders want to develop/ want to help. 

“And we've had this with secondments to HMIC, with secondments to the College - it goes to police headquarters and then there's a small and a select pool of people that are given these opportunities.” 

He adds it’s about advertising in the right places and allowing people to self-nominate. 

For senior selection more generally, Chief Insp George said from Chief Inspector level onwards “you rely on those above you to pull you up”. 

“I sat doing the Superintendent workstream coordinator roles for the Race Action Plan - nine applicants applied, the only two that passed were white British officers from the Met. 

"It had to go out again for a further assessment to get others in. 

“What I saw sitting on the other end assessing was exactly that - those White Met officers had mentors outside, they had structure, they were able to present the evidence better. And I think that's it - it wasn't that the Black or Asian officers were any less competent or any less credible, it was just the fact that they didn't have the same structure.

“At times we can use processes that traditionally discriminate.” 

NBPA are looking to hold workshops for Constable to Sergeant, Sergeant to Inspector and Chief Inspector and above. 

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