According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 American Time Use Survey, full-time employees spend 8.5 hours working on an average weekday. The numbers rise in case of those working in law enforcement and the justice system, with shifts often extending 10-12 hours, and even more with overtime. Whether working an eight-hour shift or working more than one-third of the day, it is important that employees feel supported, empowered, and do not fear discrimination.
Historically a profession composed primarily of white males, justice agencies nationwide have recognized the need to diversify and balance their workforce. Diversifying the workforce by hiring underrepresented (race, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics) employees allows for better representation in the workplace and the community, encourages innovation, and invites different perspectives and solutions to long-standing community problems.
In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Hispanics and Latinos were the largest underrepresented group in the United States. In 2020, Hispanics and Latinos remained the largest underrepresented group, with Blacks/African Americans being the second largest underrepresented group. While whites comprise the largest percentage of our country’s population, the nation’s diversity continues to grow.
Our workplaces should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. Managing a workplace that is diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible to people of all backgrounds is one of the best ways to empower underrepresented employees. Many underrepresented individuals purposely seek out employers with a reputation for hiring, supporting, and promoting a diverse workforce.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement—an interagency research initiative. Their findings were similar to those of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing:
“...increased diversity within law enforcement agencies—defined not only in terms of race and gender, but also other characteristics including religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, language ability, background, and experience—serves as a critically important tool to build trust with communities.”
These insights suggest that in the context of law enforcement and justice systems, cultivating a diversified workforce fosters not only inclusivity but also strengthens community trust and promotes public support.
While progress has been made in diversifying law enforcement, let’s put into perspective the composition and agency-wide diversity in federal law enforcement provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics:
- 90 agencies, 136,815 full-time federal law enforcement officers
- 15% female
- 61% white
- 21% Hispanic
- 10% Black
Efforts to continue to diversify law enforcement and justice systems have been in place for years for various reasons, including improving community-law enforcement relations and reforming justice systems from the inside. However, hiring underrepresented employees is just the first step. Several other crucial steps are required to maintain a diverse, welcome, and safe workforce:
- Assess and address your existing workforce and their approach to policing and supervising
- Review and revise policies to emphasize inclusion
- Offer equity-based training
- Be an upstander when discrimination and/or inappropriate behavior occurs
- Provide opportunities for professional development
- Encourage higher education and specialized certifications
- Promote community-oriented policing and involvement in diverse community events
- Make sure they see themselves there
Assess and Address Existing Workforce
Efforts to create a welcoming, inclusive, diverse environment can quickly be compromised if the existing workforce and culture conflict with that intention. Assessing the attitudes and beliefs of current employees and immediately addressing discriminatory practices—interactions with colleagues, approaches to policing and supervising, etc.— should occur regularly.
Review and Revise Policies
Inclusion in the workplace should not just be a pipedream or a word on a motivational poster. It should be an integral part of policies and procedures. If policies prevent some individuals or groups of people from being considered for employment or promotion, reconsider them. Make time to review and revise policies to reduce exclusion and enhance inclusion.
When providing training intended to promote a positive, inclusive, equitable workplace, be sure the training includes examples of how employees can mitigate prejudice and implicit bias. Sharing easy-to-remember approaches, responses, and communications that help build empathy and halt or redirect negative interactions can help build equity and inclusion in the workplace.
Be an Upstander
Utilizing the skills learned in equity-based training, we are all in a better position to be an upstander— advocating, supporting, or intervening for those under verbal or physical assault and addressing discrimination, such as if someone's name is continually shortened because it's deemed "unusual" or "too difficult to say," an upstander would have the courage to challenge this behavior. While supervisors are expected to model such upstanding behavior, creating an inclusive workplace calls for every team member to adopt the mantle of upstander.
Professional Development Opportunities
Encouraging underrepresented employees to continue to build their skills through professional development shows them that you believe in their abilities and support them in their growth.
Many employees may not realize they can be considered for these opportunities, so it is important to promote them where they will see it and provide clear directions so that anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate.
Higher Education and Specialized Certifications
Degrees and specialized certifications are often required for leadership positions within justice services. To optimize diversity among leaders, consider offering tuition reimbursement and/or substituting degrees for technical certifications. When special certification opportunities arise, promote them widely throughout the agency.
Community Policing and Engagement
Many justice service employees chose this profession because they want to improve and give back to the community where they were raised and/or live. Community-oriented policing builds community and helps improve public safety. When employees are seen in their community, engaging with them as law enforcement professionals, trust and community-law enforcement relationships are improved.
We all want to see others like us doing the work we value. When a underrepresented enters your workplace, seeing someone who looks like them almost always creates a feeling of welcome and comfort. Whether that someone is featured in a picture on the wall or an actual employee, seeing people who look like us matters. It is also important for underrepresented employees to see other underrepresented employees at all levels of the workplace, including leadership.
By implementing these steps and other inclusive actions, underrepresented employees will feel empowered to positively represent your agency which will, over time, improve your agency’s reputation in the workplace and the community as equitable and diverse. If you're interested in diving more into empowering underrepresented employees in justice agencies, check out the Empower Virtual Summit. This online event features experts from various fields, such as child welfare, mental health, criminal and juvenile justice, and education, who will be presenting sessions on new industry trends, case studies, and more. The summit also provides opportunities for attendees to connect with Empower's family of organizations (Including the Carey Group) and other attendees.
Looking to improve your leadership skills and ability to implement and maintain healthy, productive organizational strategies? Contact a Carey Group consultant who can connect you with effective, research-based policies, practices, and leadership tools!
Decades of experience demonstrate that aligning justice systems around evidence-based policies and practices offers the greatest promise of success. Carey Group provides services and products for justice system professionals, from evidence-based consulting to interactive workbooks that help improve the mental health and lives of people involved in the justice system.
Carey Group’s evidence-based training and consulting services address the needs of the justice system and behavioral health professionals. Training is an essential tool for keeping staff, supervisors, leadership, and stakeholders up to date with emerging knowledge and expectations for improved outcomes. Carey Group offers in-person, online, and self-directed courses on evidence-based practices, motivational interviewing, core professional competencies, case planning and management, continuous quality improvement, coaching, and the use of behavior-change tools and supervisor resources.