Advancing "WE" in Policing
By Karen Noakes
There should be no hesitation amongst police leaders in acknowledging that there is urgent work to be done with respect to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in every police organization.
Leadership is vital to cultivating an inclusive workplace. With leadership comes great responsibility, and now more than ever, we need leaders that are not only bold, courageous, and visionary – we need leaders that recognize they must “own it”!
Brené Brown is a research professor, author and inspirational leader. I was first introduced to her work when I watched her Netflix documentary - The Call to Courage. It was a game changer for me. She has an immense ability to connect with an audience with grace and humility and she is able to articulate what some of us have struggled to express when it comes to the lack of EDI in our organizations. Her teachings bring exceptional credibility and they are rooted in decades of research.
In her Netflix documentary she tells us that when it comes to inclusivity and equity- the people who are affected – those targeted by racism, homophobia, heterosexism and gender bias - are not responsible for initiating the conversations and building the tables where the conversations need to be happening. Leaders must not wait for others to take on the responsibility of teaching them, they must take learning into their own hands. This is so important as it is contrary to what some senior leaders currently believe.
Brené believes that the future of leadership belongs to the brave, and that there are currently many barriers preventing bravery at work. These barriers include a fear of tough conversations, ignoring fears and feelings, getting stuck in setbacks, seeking to solve problems through immediate action without taking the time to understand the issues, a culture of shame or blame and not working towards inclusivity, diversity and equity.
This blog touches on some of the work of Brené Brown; in addition to common themes that I have come across during my own research and my involvement with law enforcement agencies.
First important step: Before you change it – you must understand it
Leaders need to find out how their current organizational culture is serving their members.
Leaders need to stop ignoring, defending, denying, resisting and appeasing. They must be committed to seeking out and understanding the lived experiences of their members, especially those that have not been able to experience a healthy workplace where members are respected, connected, their input and work are valued, and they can bring their authentic selves to their organization and their community.
Leaders must recognize that these unhealthy experiences are going to continue to repeat themselves as long as their organizations maintain the current processes, systems and culture that are not designed for differences.
Until leaders are willing and brave enough to pursue, to actively listen and to truly understand the details of the unhealthy practices, experiences and aspects within their workplace culture, they will never be in a position to envision transformational change that reflects an intentionally authentic and inclusive organization.
Determine your vision and how the culture must change
Cultural change is behavioural change that starts within the executive and senior levels. Executive and senior leaders are responsible for monitoring and strengthening organizational culture. They set the tone by directing and guiding the organization and setting the standards throughout the workplace, whether it be through the procedures and policies they implement, or role modelling and their own behaviours.
Of course, there are expectations of all members at all levels in an organization - formal and informal leaders and sworn and civilian members. That being said, executive and senior leaders need to recognize the impact of their roles throughout the entire organization and the community, as opposed to those leaders who may only have influence within their sphere.
People must decide to change their behaviour
The commitment to cultural change is complex and challenging - and it is really hard work! It requires people to be courageous and willing to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, to gather strength to lean in and to be vulnerable versus shielding or retreating.
There is a human element, especially when dealing with EDI, that will never be addressed simply through transactional (operational) processes. Transformation is an essential requirement to true culture change. It is a long-term commitment that will challenge the mindset and behaviours of every member.
It is imperative that leaders begin sowing the seeds that will nurture their organization’s long-term transformational vision - as realistic time frames for transformative culture change will extend beyond the careers of many of our current brave and courageous leaders.
The standard you walk by is the standard you accept
Cultural change requires the commitment of the executive and senior leadership teams. Their responsibilities cannot be abdicated, delegated or executed mechanically through statement, policies or mandated training. Most importantly they cannot stand by when the vision, values and expectations of the organization are being compromised.
Leaders must own it!
Leaders must clearly define the terms of equity, diversity and inclusion within their organizations-there must be no ambiguity.
Leaders must recognize the importance of communicating the reasons for change and why it is essential to focus on prioritizing a healthy workplace that reflects authentic inclusion that is intentional.
Leaders need to be engaged and aware of the aspects of their organizational culture that are valued, and provide a strong ethical foundation, so they can be retained.
Leaders must be courageous and acknowledge that they are aware of and understand the lived experiences of members and make it clear that the actions that precipitated those experiences are unacceptable and not in keeping with the values and vision of the organization.
Leaders need to be acutely aware of their vision - who in the organization will be served; and is it intentional and authentically inclusive.
Leaders must be visible and ensure members in the organization are engaged and understand why there is a need for change, what the vision of that change looks like, what their role in the change is and how the organization will begin the transformational journey.
Leaders need to instill confidence within the organization that, not only will there be accountability for those who engage in unacceptable behaviour, but that there will be a strong commitment to developing people-focused leaders throughout the organization in a purposeful effort to eliminate such unacceptable behaviour and embrace an intentional and authentically inclusive workplace.
In cultivating an inclusive workplace there are many resources. See “Courageous Leadership” by Jane Counsel and Brene Brown (2019) from Executive Central. Other amazing resources that are both inspiring and informative include:
Additional resources highly recommended to me that I'm currently working through include:
There is urgent work to be done with respect to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in every police organization and the time is now to encourage and support police leadership to step up, be inclusive and "own it" .
Karen Noakes is a retired Superintendent from York Regional Police. Throughout her career, she worked to establish a culture of inclusion to build supports for underrepresented groups in policing leadership. Karen has continued the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conversation in policing into her retirement in consultation and facilitation roles, championing people-focused leadership, ethics, professionalism and authentic inclusion.
WE Blog Coordinator: Natalie Hiltz