Of all the public bodies that would benefit from an injection of diversity, the police force must surely rank among the highest. Home Office figures released last month (October) show that just 1.7 per cent of the police officers patrolling our streets in England and Wales are women of a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) background. Despite some increases in recent years, this figure is still too low and far from representative of the population that the force is supposed to reflect.
An opportunity for lasting change may just have presented itself though, in the shape of the Government’s new drive to recruit another 20,000 police officers over the next three years. This is a really ambitious target in itself, particularly as only around one in ten police applicants actually makes it into uniform on their first day.
But this huge task could at least present the chance to make some proactive changes to the way that police officers are recruited, principally by the introduction of digital techniques and tools to increase the volume of candidates that the police engage with and boost each applicant’s chances of being successful.
My hope is that these changes could have the helpful side-effect of boosting the appeal of working in the police for BAME women, who are often held back by a lack of self-confidence during the application process. Research from graduate recruiters The Bright Network found that women are 56 per cent more likely than men to abandon a job application, while students from a BAME community are 18 per cent more likely than average to do the same because of low confidence.
In the case of the UK’s police forces, this isn’t that surprising, given the paucity of role models. Kerrin Wilson, who recently featured in a BBC report, is now an assistant chief constable, but when she started in the police force she spent the first eight years of her career as the only woman she knew with a BAME background. If you can’t see anyone who looks like you in an organisation, it is very hard to imagine you will thrive there.
A key task for recruiters is to ensure that all candidates, regardless of their background, feel encouraged and supported throughout the recruitment journey. Two digital techniques which can be particularly transformative for this are online group chats and live video streaming. Imagine, for example, a live chat or video-streamed Q&A session hosted by two BAME female officers specifically for women of their background to ask questions and chat with each other about their experiences. An online chat event would be brilliant for giving these candidates a real sense of the job and for conveying a message that diversity is something which is celebrated and supported.
On a practical level, the fact that any candidate is able to easily join and contribute to a discussion (or just listen in) makes online chat events like these extremely effective at engaging the widest possible audience and in a way that enhances the candidate experience.
Aside from demonstrating inclusiveness and boosting recruitment volumes, live chat events would serve other useful purposes along the way. They can help to encourage and educate candidates about each stage of the recruitment process, including video interviews and cognitive testing. Research by Meet & Engage found, prior to chat sessions, just 5 per cent of candidates say they feel well prepared for their video interview. Post-chat, the number of candidates who feel prepared rises to 67 per cent.
The other critical role online chat sessions can play is in keeping candidates engaged at those stages in the recruitment journey when their motivation is most likely to wane. Police recruitment is a lengthy process because of the extensive security checks so there are periods of time when there might be little contact between the force and applicants. These are exactly the moments when a candidate might start to lose confidence and consider giving up on the process. But, with a series of live chat events, candidates can be kept engaged and motivated without the time and expense of physically attending.
The on-boarding stage, a nerve-wracking time for newly recruited police officers, is another stage when engagement levels can drop. An online event that gives candidates an idea of what they can expect in their first weeks on the job would help them start their career in a positive fashion. It could also host some interviews with other police officers looking back to their early weeks and potentially even offer some chances for early networking. This month, my company launched its Timeline platform, which allows HR professionals to enhance the onboarding stage of the candidate journey in exactly this way.
Although these kinds of digital techniques clearly have great potential for the police to boost recruitment volumes and expand inclusivity, they could be used by any organisation looking to broaden its recruitment horizons. Something as straightforward as a live chat session has the potential to be a catalyst for real cultural change.