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Policing - Do we understand our people?

Blog from PSA President, Paul Griffiths

To build a truly representative, inclusive workforce, we need to look at the fundamental matter of whether we understand our own people. 

Humans, by their very nature are different.  Through biology, background and personality, none of us are the same, and creating policies, processes or plans based on categories can carry risks.

This is because no one has only one ‘label’.  

By looking at gender, separate to race, isolated from disability, and ignoring social background, we’re missing the fact that no one can ever sit within only one ‘category’.  The very idea of categorisation when it comes to people is flawed.
When thinking about this issue, which in essence is about ‘intersectionality’, I did some research.
If you look up the dictionary definition of this theory, it states:

‘The theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual’ 


‘The oppression and discrimination resulting from the overlap of an individual’s various social identities’

It stuck me that surely the very definition of this, is the opposite of how it should be approached.

Why is our place in multiple ‘categories’ viewed negatively and as a source of oppression?  Why is it not something to celebrate?
We live in a culture where being part of a ‘protected characteristic’ puts you at a disadvantage, and being part of more than one, makes you even more so.
Shouldn’t our role therefore be to see these overlapping experiences and insights as contributors to our Service and drivers for growth? Perhaps if we take this approach when looking to better understanding our workforce, we will gain the empathy we need to create a workforce based on who we are.
This, I believe is the true intention of our Police Service.  We’re a Service that is striving for better understanding, and to identify every piece of difference that can bring benefit to our work, but so far, our traditional processes and structures have hampered this.
Women are often referenced when we talk about intersectionality, as those most likely to be negatively impacted by being part of more than one ‘protected characteristic’.
I asked our association’s Black Asian Minority Ethnic lead, Bhupinder Rai, about this, as an Asian woman. She said “In my view, intersectionality can bring increased disadvantages, but I sincerely believe it also offers opportunities and benefits for organisations. 
“Being an Asian woman means I have a lived experience and understanding of both gender and race issues which may well be different to a that of a white woman or an Asian man. When I feel unfairly treated, I often question which trait is that a result of, my gender or my race? 

“When I explain and assist in developing thinking and future actions, I have the benefit of being able to speak from not only both a perspective of gender and race, but also from a perspective that recognises issues which, if both traits were looked at in isolation, may very well be missed. It gives me a sense of pride to be able to contribute in a more nuanced way.”

There is a risk in categorising people and making assumptions that are not founded on understanding, and a risk in predicting how people feel or want to be treated.
Whilst quantitative data assists to some degree, moving towards a qualitative approach to understanding our people will be the step change that is ultimately required. This won’t be easy and certainly won’t be quick.
But giving our workforce the time to tell us about who they are, what they need and what they think, rather than simply asking them to tick a box, will surely be the start of a journey towards a workforce culture truly based on value, respect and understanding.

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