Positive Action

What is it?

There are lots of misconceptions about positive action - that we’re more interested in someone’s characteristics than their ability, that people will get bonus marks for being from a minority or that we aren’t interested in recruiting white males.

These are all wrong.

BTP officer

So what is positive action?
‘Positive action’ is the term for initiatives we put in place to help people from certain backgrounds become and succeed as police officers. We want our force to represent the community it serves.

The key word here is ‘help’. In reality it is a simple gesture to provide support and encouragement, so can be holding merely holding a workshop for people from a certain background to dispel myths and help with their confidence or providing mentors for new recruits.

What protected characteristics are disproportionately low in policing?
The answer, in short, is probably very many. It is likely that we are not proportionately represented by people from the LGBT community or people with disabilities however we cannot evidence that shortfall and it would not be legal to take positive action based on guess work. We can clearly evidence that we are underrepresented by black and minority ethnic (BME) and female Officers as 90% identify as white and 84% as male.

What are we doing and why?
Let’s start with why. We want a workforce that represents the community it serves. We’ve actually made great progress towards achieving this and we are proud that British Transport Police has the second highest proportion of BME Officers after the Met. This is not an insignificant achievement but neither is it ‘job done’ for improving diversity.

Diversity matters. Diversity helps us to build bridges between the police and groups who traditionally feel disconnected from us. This speaks to the public’s trust and confidence in the police; it speaks to the ability for a young black male to feel that we will treat him fairly or for a woman to feel confident reporting a sexual assault to us. These are serious issues and we do not shy away from addressing them and nor should we.

Despite that seriousness, the action we take is actually quite subtle. We hold workshops aimed at BMEs and females to dispel common myths about policing, give the candidates a good idea of what to expect from the job and the recruitment process and help them feel confident to apply. Should these candidates fall out of that process we contact them to understand why and, in some cases, provide development where they fell short, encouraging them to reapply again in the future. Regardless of their characteristics, everyone has to meet the same rigorous standards and every application, test and interview is scored on its own individual merits alone and absolutely no other factors.

It’s important for all applicants to understand and value the importance of a workforce that represents the community it serves but it’s equally as important that people understand what positive action is and isn’t because we don’t want anyone to feel as though they are excluded from policing based on who they are.

BTP officers


Is positive action legal?
Yes, of course. We are a police force and it’s vital that we uphold the law. Positive action is endorsed by Sections 158 and 159 of Equality Act 2010.

How do you define what an underrepresented group is?
We know who works for us as this data is provided by our own staff. If we have a much lower representation of a particular group within BTP than there is in the general public then we know they are underrepresented. We can evidence that women and black and ethnic minorities are underrepresented within BTP as compared to national statistics. There is a great deal of this information available on this Home Office website.

Surely other groups are also underrepresented? Why don’t you use positive action to help them?
Yes, it is quite likely that we are underrepresented by other groups. However it’s really important that we can provide evidence of this underrepresentation so that we are acting in a way which is fair, transparent and legal. At present, we can only properly evidence that women and BMEs are underrepresented within BTP. 

Do you explain how to pass the assessment process to underrepresented groups?
No, definitely not. The support we provide is good but generic and is more about building confidence in the individual that they will be welcome to work for BTP. It would undermine our assessment process to explain how to pass it so we would never do that – whoever you are.

Is it an advantage to be from an underrepresented group?
No. Whilst we proactively approach female and BME candidates to encourage them to apply to BTP and answer their questions we will answer everyone’s questions and encourage anyone, whoever they are, to get in touch if they need our support.