Diversity Voices Interview: Barry Boffy, Head of Diversity & Inclusion British Transport Police, Winner of ‘Inclusive Companies’ and ‘Diversity Champion’ Awards
1. It is said that more organisations want to 'be better' at diversity and inclusion; based on your experience what are the first 3 key areas that an organisation should prioritise when setting out to improve their diversity and inclusion outcomes?
We often forget that when we use the shorthand "diversity and inclusion" we're actually talking about two very distinct, but interdependent things. More and more organisations understand the importance and power of "diversity": and to be more precise, having a diverse workforce. However, some still don't understand that diversity is actually not sustainable in isolation. We can spend a huge amount of time and energy increasing the diversity of our workforce, but if the culture or practices of an organisation are not inclusive then they will lose that diverse workforce over time. It's what I call the 'leaky bucket effect' and it's why I feel that creating an inclusive workplace should always take priority. Ultimately, inclusion is the solder to fix that leaky bucket!
My first priority would always be to have a strategy. It doesn't have to be a long and complicated document, but you should always have an idea of what your ultimate goals and priorities are or what your focus will be, how you will achieve those goals and how you can measure whether it's been successful. However, you would never want a strategy to feel like it's a list of things you're doing TO an organisation or workforce, so I would always ask our employees to be part of the solution, which would be my second key area. Employee Engagement Surveys have been around for a long time and are definitely not a new concept, but they are a tried and tested way for any organisation to understand exactly how happy a workforce is, which in turn gives a sense of how inclusive your practices are. Of course, this is all dependent on you asking the right questions and being prepared to listen to the answers no matter how 'unpalatable' they may be. It's your temperature check to see what the mood of your workforce is and it will very quickly give you a sense of where your organisation may not be as employee friendly, or inclusive, as you think it is. More often than not, you will also see common themes coming out of these survey results which can help to give you a specific focus or goal.
My third area to focus on would be to find out who my natural allies are and who are a little bit more resistant. I think we all recognise how frequently diversity and inclusion activity is led by those from under-represented or minority groups, and how difficult it can be to make it relevant to those who see themselves as not being part of these groups. "It's nothing to do with me" is sadly a phrase that I do still hear, usually from those who see diversity and inclusion as just an 'add-on' or something that's done purely for statutory reasons. I'm trying desperately not to use the term "tick box exercise", but this does still ring true. My priority here will always be to work with 'the resistant' and not to take the easy route of working alongside those who already know how important this area of work is. It is much easier to surround yourself with people who believe what you do, and you know will help you on your journey. However, this approach is not likely to encourage those who are already resistant or even dismissive to want to join the party and get involved.
Finally, make it fun! Make diversity and inclusion something that everyone wants to be involved in and where they could feel left out (or even left behind) if they're not taking part. Nobody wants "more work to do" so the task of a good diversity and inclusion leader is to be an ambassador for inclusion and diversity by making sure that it makes sense to everyone and everyone has (and can see) their place.
2. In your experience, how important is it for organisational leaders to take responsibility for visibly influencing and actively modelling the inclusive behaviours that they seek to embed in the organisations culture?
It's incredibly important that senior leadership regularly talk about diversity and inclusion. However, it must always be genuine. It doesn't really matter how high ranking or senior the individual is if the message being delivered feels prompted, forced, contrived or written by a public relations expert. Leading by example and allowing leaders to be confident and comfortable to be their genuine selves at work is something that I would rather focus on. This allows senior leaders to be seen as authentic to the rest of the workforce. Often, we accept that if we implement a 'top down' approach to Diversity & Inclusion activity that others within the organisation will naturally fall into line and buy into what's being said based on the seniority (or in my sector, 'rank') of the person delivering the message. This isn't always the case and in my experience this can be seen by a workforce as a 'because I said so' message which may not feel natural, or is even seen as being autocratic.
3. What particular qualities do you have that you believe make you an effective leader?
I honestly don't think that there's any one way to be an effective leader and I suppose exactly how effective I have been will always be subjective. However, I was recently described as being "terminally optimistic", which I really believe does describe my approach to everything that I do. Admittedly, I think it was actually meant as a criticism, but this is something I am more than happy to wear as a badge with pride.
It's also been important to me that I remain pragmatic. I don't mean that you can't also be idealistic in your goals and aims (as I have been). However, I have always felt it important to have a deep understanding of the sector that I work in, the limitations and barriers that may naturally be present and to tailor my approach with those things firmly in mind. In my experience, this has been a particularly good way for me to get 'buy-in' from all those who can help me to deliver results as I'm not making unrealistic demands of them and I am showing that I really do understand the environment that they are working in. I have always gone out of my way to learn as much about the criminal justice sector and policing as I possibly can, not just to focus on diversity & inclusion in isolation, so I would also say that I am constantly curious about the world that I work in.
4. What would you say are some of the more frustrating challenges that you consistently face in your role as D&I Manager for the British Transport Police?
Honestly, I have to say that I have been exceptionally lucky at British Transport Police. Rarely have I encountered any real resistance to inclusion and diversity or any of the programmes and activities that I have recommended. However, if there has been any frustration it's been in making sure that equality, diversity and inclusion makes sense to everyone on their own individual terms. I've already mentioned that sometimes it has been difficult for people to see how inclusion & diversity is relevant to them; particularly if they don't consider themselves one of the protected groups that are described in the Equality Act. This is something that is particularly true in policing, where the majority are still 'white, heterosexual males' who don't see the relevance. To those individuals, inclusion & diversity was often about 'other people' and they didn't understand their place in creating an inclusive workforce or increasing the diversity of our workforce. My biggest challenge, and biggest success, is in making it real for them, and getting to a point where they start to suggest activity and to challenge me!
5. Your passion and commitment to Diversity and inclusion led to you winning the 2018 Inclusive Champion Award …congratulations. What will you be doing over the next 12 -24 months to push the D & I Agenda forward?
Thank you! 2018 has been an exceptionally challenging but rewarding year and I do feel that the work that I've been championing at BTP has been recognised. We're at a really interesting place at the moment in policing, with lots of new and complex challenges emerging. Some of those challenges relate directly to how society itself is changing and how it will continue to change as we head towards, and post Brexit. I think we've all noticed that the culture in the UK is changing rapidly, and intolerance and hatred in particular seems to be increasing. It feels as if 'Brexit' has given an implied permission for people to say "what they really believe", where they may have previously hidden those views as part of a mutually accepted social agreement. It's really important that police services (including British Transport Police) recognise this change, and are able to respond appropriately whilst at the same time reassuring those who are vulnerable or at risk. As such, protecting the vulnerable and responding to hate and intolerance will continue to be one of my main focuses.
At British Transport Police, we are also about to launch our new Inclusion & Diversity Strategy: a four year strategy describing what our aspirations are in our operational policing activities, how we work with our communities and how we build an inclusive workplace for our own employees. Over the next 6 to 12 months in particular I will be working very closely with our officers and staff to make this real for them…giving them a sense of the part they can play to help us to achieve our goals.
6. Lastly Barry, as you've progressed in your role over the last few years, what have you learnt about yourself that has surprised you?
That I am much more patient than I ever thought I could be! Real cultural change, particularly in a sector like policing with its firmly entrenched and long-held values, will always take time. Sometimes it feels like change will never come, and that it's an immovable and stubborn beast. However, it's easy to forget that we can't actually encourage, influence or affect cultural change independently to those who work within it. All organisations are only as progressive and receptive as its employees are; so it's important to remember that people will always be the key. After all, "Policing" doesn't have a heart and mind of its own, does it?