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Barriers to Progression

A police force got in touch: they had worked hard on their policies to promote diversity. But what was getting in the way? Were women, ethnic and religious minorities being recruited, promoted, and kept in the force as much as others? They asked Lokahi to conduct highly sensitive interviews and research to find some answers: what was really going on beneath the surface, and what more could the police force do?

Lokahi Real-Time Research

Each consultation we do is explicitly tailored to the client we work for. Naturally this one was highly confidential. However, you might like to see some generic recommendations we made on how law enforcement could improve their track record with minorities.


1. The study we conducted unveiled a mix of isolated, malfunctioning practices and more generic work patterns and behaviours. The latter are enduring features which define the culture of an organisation and the background against which the isolated examples occur. Changing work mindsets requires a sustained effort and commitment.

2. From research on changing an organisational culture, one overriding lesson is that changing the mindset and behaviours is the single most successful tactic in achieving organisational change. On the other hand, consultants from systems thinking have argued that once you get the right systems in place, changing cultures is easy and quick. With the right systems in place, people do not seek to behave in counter-productive ways. Faulty systems encourage and reward undesirable institutional behaviour. When applied to our study, the actions that the force takes need to combine those that address mindsets and issues related to the culture within the organisation, and recommendations which strengthen the right systems.

3. The second most profitable aspect of successful organisational change is involving employees. Where employees are engaged in the change, consulted, involved and feel a sense of ownership, the success rates are 70% or higher. When coupled with strong leadership, energy and momentum are sustained: another key factor for success. The change should come from within the organisation and build on the positive examples already in place.

4. Some of the key things that leaders can do to effect change are to set the aspiration, articulate it persuasively, accentuate the positive, select the right champions for change and build staff and their capabilities. To harness this moment effectively, Lokahi suggests that a positive approach is taken which will benefit all staff – reducing resentment, resistance, divisiveness – by creating a level playing field. We do not recommend that the emphasis of the work to come is put on new policies targeting minorities. The minority officers are not ‘the problem’, so focusing attention on them with new initiatives is beside the point when the deeper need is a change of a broader institutional mindset. In fact, as our research with the force has shown, this approach has been at times experienced as counter-productive even by minority officers themselves. The unintended consequence is that attempts to ‘fix’ the system have actually reinforced the underlying attitudes that need changing.

5. Targeting majority staff as those in need of ‘fixing’, for example with more ‘diversity training’, is also counter-productive. What is needed now is an approach that is unifying; that takes the focus off the minority or majority status of officers and places the attention on the excellence of the force as a whole as the vision that all staff share. This shared aspiration, supported by visionary leadership, has the potential to unite the force around objectives that all can sign up to and support.

6. We suggest that themes are selected to focus and motivate the work. These themes, crucially, apply to all officers – not just women and ethnic minorities. Under each of the above headings we recommend specific actions which could be taken to effect change.

These themes could be:

  • Create a culture of outstanding officers

  • Sustain a cohesive force

  • Identify excellence accurately

  • Support merit fairly

  • Make the best use of your people

[Here we list our five themes for the force’s work, with one or two examples of the recommended actions under each.]

1 Create a culture of outstanding officers

1.1 The force can build on the recognised positive aspects to create a culture of outstanding officers. The message that has come out of our interviews with officers who have been recommended for their work is that being good at your job is a key factor in ‘fitting in’. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on rewarding outstanding work. The reward system should recognise a broad area of professional contributions and not be limited to job-specific performance measures (e.g. number of arrests). It should take into account interpersonal skills and contributions to cultural changes, such as mentoring, conflict resolution, leadership and innovation. In addition, here are some systemic changes that could be brought in:

1.2. Develop specific guidelines around support for progression (promotion or specialism) and attachments to supplement the new SOP

2 Sustain a cohesive force

2.1 The force needs to build on the positive aspects of a personal-relationship culture to promote cohesiveness. Cohesion should be understood as equal access to opportunities and fluidity within the organisation. The force needs to ensure that the systems of reward do not flow along the lines of patronage, but are transparent and fair systems that reward merit and foster excellence and outstanding performance in a number of areas, including leadership and personnel management. By tweaking these systems and allowing the mindset and behaviour to follow, the force can ‘nudge’ change – rather than attempt coercive measures to destroy the drinking culture or replace the ‘Old Boys Network’. The key area of focus therefore is to create systems whereby all officers have access to these benefits of good working relationships. More concretely, these changes translate into the following actions:

2.2 Ensure visible minorities have access to high-level support – not just from their minority group, but importantly from senior white male colleagues as well. The support and mentoring for visible minorities should combine same minority mentors to allow for specific issues to be discussed and addressed using similar personal experiences, and senior white male officers (from the perceived ‘Old Boys Club’) who can offer the support needed from the ‘ones with power’

3 Identify excellence accurately

3.1 The perception that the force does not robustly identify or promote excellence needs to be addressed. This applies to the promotion boards and the way in which the evidence that is required of those going through the process is presented. It also refers to wider recognition for outstanding work and excellent officers that can command wide recognition and inspiration. Therefore, the force needs to introduce externality into the promotion panels/boards.

4. Support merit fairly

4.1 Make available training for line managers, all senior officers and those who want to be mentors in how to support their staff across the board. Raise awareness of the impact of the perceived ‘Old Boys Network’ in this training.

5. Make the best use of your people

5.1 Make better use of your officers to promote a positive image of the excellent work undertaken by the force. For example, in future recruitment drives, use existing outstanding officers with the right background experience to encourage those in their communities to join the force. Investigate the possibility of personal support from the same minority group during the recruitment process

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