One size doesn’t fit all

For the vast majority of football fans, the name Jean-Marc Bosman is very familiar. I doubt
though, that many police officers and staff know who Terri Brookes is. However in the
same way that Bosman changed football transfers forever, Brookes’ judicial challenge of
Government recruitment processes and the landmark Employment Tribunal judgement in her favour may have an important effect on the way police officers are recruited and

Her case is one of the first times a claim for indirect disability discrimination has succeeded
at Employment Tribunal level.

Terri Brookes has autism, and was required to take a multiple choice situation judgement
test as part of the first stage of her application to the Government Legal Service (GLS).
Many of us who have been through promotion or joined the police recently will be familiar
with this style of testing, as it serves a purpose and the multiple-choice format makes the
assessment process more efficient. However she asked to be allowed to submit short
written answers to the questions, as the black and white nature of the multiple-choice test
placed her at a disadvantage. This was refused, and she failed.

Crucially in this case however, she had asked for the adjustment prior to sitting the test, and then at the Tribunal raised the issue of multiple choice tests in her exams at University,
during which she had been allowed to prepare written answers instead. By doing so, she
was able to provide evidence to prove that the adjustment she was requesting was
reasonable in the circumstances. The Employment Tribunal agreed with her.

So what does this mean for those of us within the police family who are on the autism
spectrum and want to apply for promotion or another role? Well clearly, as we all know,
there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to reasonable adjustments and what may work for one person may not work for another. For example in my particular case I’ve sat various
psychometric tests over the last few years and have always done very well at them. I’d
probably argue that my autistic brain helps me do well.

What this decision shows is the dangers of rigid thinking when considering how to best test
for key competencies, and the need to demonstrate a willingness to find solutions when it comes to reasonable adjustments. It also shows that those of us who need some form of
adjustment need to know what we require to level the playing field, and possibly to be able
to provide evidence as to why.

But what it also shows is the absolute necessity to ensure promotion practices are not likely
to put a particular group at a disadvantage. Considering a disabled/neurodiverse candidate,
many are at the mercy of preconceptions about their condition and their perceived ability to
do the job. And while this decision is a step in the right direction, there aren’t many
alternatives out there that also eradicate some of the other biases that can affect who gets
promoted and who doesn’t. Policing has come a long way in this regard, but still has a long
way to go.

Whichever way you look at it, many police forces in the UK will now be required to think far more flexibly about reasonable adjustments and how to implement them, or face having to explain to an Employment Tribunal why they haven’t.

Adam O’Loughlin
NPAA Communicatons Officer
Police Sergeant, Avon & Somerset Constabulary

Introducing the Police Neurodiversity Forum

Since we launched back in 2015, the NPAA has been committed to supporting a range of hidden conditions as well as autism, and to promoting the concept of neurodiversity – difference of thought – in the police service. We believe that the ability to think differently is vital to solve the problems of 21st century policing, and if our mailbox is anything to go by, we’re not the only ones: it’s looking like 2017 will be the year that neurodiversity starts to achieve widespread recognition.

Our web forum is already used by our growing member base to discuss a wide range of topics, and we felt that the time was right for a change of name. We’re therefore pleased to announce that our NPAA forum is now the Police Neurodiversity Forum. Regular visitors will notice that we’ve added folders covering specific conditions, including a new area to discuss mental health and wellbeing. The forum has always been fully searchable (if you’ve never used it, give it a try), and we hope that it will become the ‘go-to’ resource for neurodiversity within policing and criminal justice.

A reminder that our forum isn’t just for police officers and volunteers – other organisations including Government agencies, academic establishments and support groups are also welcome. Click on the Membership page for more details.

Icebergs and interviews

This blog has been written by a serving Chief Inspector with Asperger syndrome and dyslexia.

This is an article about being different – to what has gone before, and the ability of difference to change the world.

“You will never feel the world the same way as a blind person” – an obvious statement if you’re blessed with good eyesight. But what if the actual issue is not as simple as a sense? There are five senses of touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing – but what if the difference is not a sensing or physical issue? What if it’s your thought process that’s different?

In the good old days, recruitment and promotion interviews had guidance that read like this: “A good candidate will say X, or something like Y”. Extra marks were duly awarded for trotting out the “right” answers – the corporate line of the day. Surely it follows that the successful candidates were all likely to be thinking and acting the same way? So, would it follow that the actual outcome of their productivity once in their role – the reason for them being recruited in the first place – would be the same or very similar?

I have read that people recruit in the mirror image of how they see themselves. I cannot comment on the validity of that, but the 12 lessons that Steve Jobs taught Guy Kawasaki puts an interesting perspective on how recruitment works: “A” players recruit “A+” players but “B” players recruit “C” players, and so on. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

If you look at the work of Matthew Syed in Black Box Thinking, or Margaret Heffernan in her “Super Chicken” model of leadership and her book Wilful Blindness, they both comment on the cognitive dissonance of turning a blind eye to evidence or interpreting data for your own benefit. People feel confident and appear happy when they all “ring the same bell” – they all act and think in a similar way, and all see the world from a single perspective. It may act as a very comfortable working environment, but does it actually cause the friction needed to light the fire which leads to a step change in how we work, tackle problems and see the world?

Now, what if you do not fit into the mould? What if you cannot be part of that team? Susan Cain’s brilliant TED talk The Power of Introverts sheds light on her experience, which mirrors that of many introverts. We are not alone.

So, what is the combined outcome in a business? The thinking, acting and perspectives are all likely to be in a similar vein – great when things are all going well and business is doing well, but what about when things are not? What happens then? More of the same solutions, with more gusto? Bring in management consultants at great expense? What?! Remember, you recruited the corporate approach and attitude that’s now putting your company out of business.

Now, the icing on the cake is that your business is hierarchical, with a predisposition to view the world from a certain perspective: that with rank comes knowledge. Just for good measure, add in research that shows that the world’s complex problems of the 21st century cannot be addressed by the hierarchical, heroic leadership of the past: it needs teams to come up with creative solutions. Unfortunately you have a recruitment process which – unintentionally – keeps feeding the same way of thinking, which in turn generates similar solutions to problems, which should have already been solved by the people who scored highly in their interviews by giving the “correct” answers.

How do those people in the system who “do not feel the world as many see it” fit in?

An “empathy walk” is the ability to “put on someone else’s shoes” – to see the world how they see it. How does that work when it is the other person’s hired-wired thought processes that are different to yours?

I loved Top Trumps as kid. People who work with me know that I love data. I recite whole films and can watch the same film back-to-back over and over again. If something piques my interest, I become obsessed with that subject. I love cars – so much so that I have owned 119 of them over the years. I take everything apart to fix things when they are broken (exciting when it’s the boiler!) but you may not do what I do. YOU have your own way of doing things, which works for YOU.

Now imagine a world where huge groups of people all play together – they all get on, they all communicate with a similar etiquette. Rules of correspondence and engagement are followed to a “T”, and teeth are sucked when anything or anyone acts outside of the agreed “club rules”. How are you going to feel, and what are you going to do when you do not fit in? Do you work even harder to fit? Is it more or less tiring? At what point will you sit down, shut up and comply, or – worse still – leave?

A little time travel is now required. We are on the bridge of a ship. It’s 2330 hrs, April the 14th, the year 1912. Captain Smith is speaking with Bruce Ismay – the ship is holed and going to flounder, there are not enough lifeboats and people are going to die. What if they did not “take to the lifeboats”? What if they put the ship into reverse, at full speed? Would the hole, which was circa 280 feet in length, at its widest part 3 inches, actually create a vortex stopping the ship from sinking? If you were there, would you have said something? Would you have put your head above the parapet? And would anyone have listened? Would they see the problem from a different viewpoint? I do not know, and I am not sure that it would have worked – but conventional thinking said, “Take to the boats, women and children first”. The outcome was not great!

The problems of today and tomorrow will not be solved by heroic leadership. People who believe that “command and control” will save the day are likely to disappointed. We need teams of people with a clear vision and the ability to embrace difference: people who think and act differently, who can find common ground amongst themselves, who irritate and annoy each other to find a solution for the greater good whilst learning to live with each other and accept each other’s differences. These are the teams that will genuinely make a difference in the world.

If we do not embrace difference internally, how are we ever going to do it externally? The Direct Entry scheme recruiting to Inspector and Superintendent ranks is based on bringing in new ideas and fresh perspectives, before senior officers “go native” and are so influenced by the culture that they do not see it with the same “fresh pair of eyes” perspective. But what about the difference already within the teams we work in? We use independent advisory groups to comment on our decisions and processes because they think and act differently, yet we already have difference in our organisation. What are you doing to harness the power of difference in your colleagues?

I am a complete introvert, with Asperger syndrome and dyslexia. I sure as hell do not spell things in the world as you do, and sure as hell do not see things as you do. We are just different, and that is a really good thing. Try seeing it like this: you may feel uncomfortable in my pants because they are mine, just as people can feel uncomfortable in a process which does not accommodate them comfortably. A bit like you wearing my pants! You will never get the best out of people when they are uncomfortable; and when you are crying out for things to be different, do not make things “one size fits all” – it is just not effective.

In the “Lean” process of efficiency in business, the eighth waste is team knowledge, or not utilising existing talent. We need more difference in teams, with different knowledge and perspectives and the flexibility to allow them in, on their own merit – not just compliance with the norm!

Be different – or least let people around you be different.