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Can organisations like the Met Police turn their culture around?

Kate Palmer - Peninsula UK

A year-long review into the Metropolitan Police has found evidence that the organisation is “institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic.” Baroness Casey says a “boys’ club” culture is rife and says the force could be dismantled if drastic changes are not made.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says, “Stories like this are hard to digest – and often hard to even imagine. In an age when most businesses work hard to ensure their teams are inclusive, striving for equality and fairness, how is it possible for nobody to notice something is wrong? And how has this behaviour been ignored, covered up, or excused away for so long?

“Where a culture of inappropriate or criminal behaviour has become institutionalised, it can sometimes be difficult to take disciplinary action. But there is an onus, a need, for employers to challenge this culture, no matter how ingrained it might be.

“Overlooking problematic behaviour can breach legislation designed to promote healthy working environments, opening the doors to discrimination, bullying and harassment claims. So how can an organisation turn their culture around? Let’s look at some of the key questions:

Where do you begin with tackling sexism and racism in these public services, when bureaucracy can make it difficult to take strong disciplinary action?
“Bureaucracy should never be a defence or an excuse for the unfair treatment of workers. If red tape makes processes difficult, employers should be pro-actively pushing to lift this. Ultimately, they are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their workforce, including to facilitate a fair and equal working environment. Those who fail to do so will be a greater risk of tribunal claims, but more importantly will suffer from a demotivated workforce, contributing to poor performance and high turnover rates.

“Tackling sexism and racism must be a company-wide initiative, with measures implemented at the most junior to the most senior level, so all employees know that there is a clear, zero-tolerance stance against any form of bullying, discrimination and harassment related to race and sex. This can be done through robust policies, effective and regular training sessions, assessment of working conditions and practices, analysis of pay gaps and career gaps from employees within underrepresented groups, and targeted measures to alleviate issues.”

How can entrenched attitudes be shifted in the public services sector, to make clear that significant action will be taken?
“There are several ways this can be done, and an action plan will need to be tailored to the specific wants and needs of the organisation. Generally, junior employees will follow the examples set by senior figures. As such, it’s important that core values of equality, inclusivity, acting ethically and respect are ingrained from the top down, with full adherence to robust policies and procedures.

“Failure to do so will lead to the creation of a negative company culture which does not facilitate true diversity or basic professionalism. Similarly, strong management structures, with appropriate channels for employees (especially junior staff) to raise any concerns can allow staff to speak out against improper behaviour without fear of repercussion or hostility.

What steps should public service institutions be taking to improve organisational culture and promote diversity and inclusion?
“Profitability and efficiency tend to be the main influencing factors in decision making but businesses can reap the rewards of creating an ethically focused culture. Ethical leadership prioritises managing teams through reference to core values and recognition of the rights and dignity of others. It can help to create a standardised framework of equality, diversity, and inclusion; all of which are fundamental to the ongoing success of an organisation.

“However, to ensure the most benefit, organisations must foster a culture of diversity and inclusion beyond an updated policy or annual awareness day. To do this, equality and inclusion practices should be engrained into daily activities and regularly communicated to workforces and stakeholders. Recognition of a genuinely diverse and inclusive culture can help with the recruitment and retention of staff, and assist in creating a feeling of investment, care, and conscience.”

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