Second to the word 'cut', the word 'diversity' is the word i hear the most in the public sector, and in particular the police. If you speak to any police officer about diversity you will probably be met with a sarcastic comment, or a sigh of exacerbation...this reaction may suggest to you that nothing has changed, and we are still institutionally racist, and are just paying lip service to diversity issues. Actually the opposite is true. Individual officers and staff generally have a very good attitude towards diversity issues, but it can sometimes be frustrating when aesthetic changes are made to provide an audit trail.
Anyway, thats not what i wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about a whole other area of diversity, disability. I am currently on the job hunt, and my dream job came along today. My local force is finally looking for control room staff, and i put my application in with fingers crossed. Its a job i have done before, and loved. On this application i noticed a new section "Guaranteed Interview Scheme".
I have seen this on another 'government' application before, and it means that anyone with a disability is guaranteed an interview. I am 'lucky' that i have a disability 'as defined by the DDA' so i am guaranteed an interview...i thought i would pick this new policy apart, because it has both positives and negatives.
Lets go with the positives first!
I have been filling out application forms a lot at the moment, and i often wish there was a way to make mine stand out. There are lots of ways to make it stand out, but when the company is having to go through hundreds of applications it is pot luck that yours will even get more than a glance. I often find myself saying "if only i get to interview stage, the jobs mine". I know i interview very well. Its probably because i enjoy interviews, and have generally been successful at any interviews i've been to. As i have a 'disability', i can tick the 'yes' box when it comes to the guaranteed interview scheme...result!
So why do public sector organisations have this policy? I hate to be cynical, just hate it...but i cant help it for this topic. Although this is offering me a great personal opportunity, its not really fair for everyone else. Its an example of positive discrimination at its best and worst.
The application form does not ask what my disability is, this is the question they will ask once they have given me a provisional offer. If they were to ask me to declare the details of my disability before they made their decision it could leave them open to allegations of discrimination...so they ask it after they have made their decision. So they are taking me at my word when i say i have a disability which allows me access to the guaranteed interview scheme. Having me in for an interview is going to cost them time and money...so why are they really doing it?
Here is where i get cynical...they are doing it because its cheaper for them to offer everyone who says they have a disability an interview than to pay out for a tribunal if they get accused of discrimination. I ma sure its a very carefully calculated policy.
But does it make any difference? If i perform well at interview, but have only got the interview because of the guaranteed interview scheme, will they still offer me the job? Or will the fact that i have had a potentially unfair advantage play against me at the decision making stage? Will there be a pile of 'disabled' interviewees, and 'normal' interviewees. This is something we will never know, but i am concerned that the policy itself makes things more uncertain for everyone, including those who are given direct access to interview.
So i guess i have to gamble. Do i play the short game, or the long game?
Short Game: Apply under the guaranteed interview policy and defiantly get an interview...however i risk my application and interview being 'tainted' before i even get there.
Long Game: DON'T apply under the guaranteed interview policy and risk my application not being good enough, even though i know i will perform well at interview.
Despite the risk of being 'tainted' before i even start, its still a massive advantage that i would be stupid not to take advantage of. Its my dream job, and i know that if i get an interview the job is mine. But imagine if i wasn't confident, or if i was very concerned about how my disability would effect my chances? Is the policy really giving applicants an advantage, or is it just a cost effective insurance policy for the organisation?
Its a typical police policy: It sounds great on paper. There is a whiff of illogic. It has strong moral background. There is a slight sniff of arse covering.
Wider point...as much as police officers like to complain about these types of strategic policies, i think we have to learn to give them all a chance, even if we do think they will cause more problems. Change can sometimes be frustrating, but change is preferable to stagnation...however you have to kiss 100 frogs before you find your prince, so patience is essential!