Intersectionality is a term, recently being used by public and private sector organisations to help better address diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) matters: particularly around recruitment. Although some in-roads are being made, there is still a great deal of work that could be done. To help understand more, we approached PC Laks Mann. He brings his knowledge and expertise to his numerous volunteer roles such as a Committee member on the Met’s LGBT+ Network and in his role as a Mayor of London Adviser on City Hall’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group. He has spoken at length about this topic at events and online, and was recently nominated for his work in the ‘Inspirational Role Model of the Year’ category at the British Diversity Awards 2020. We asked Laks to give us an insight; and what advice he would give employers to improve DEI approaches.
How would you define intersectionality?
It’s where aspects of identity intersect and overlap – e.g. race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or disability – so that prejudices and discriminations converge and become multiplied.
To visualise this, if you were in a competitive race then your lane would have multiple hurdles to overcome – or each hurdle would be that bit higher – when others may be privileged to have a clear lane with no/lower hurdles.
Can you give us a sense of how intersectionality plays in your life?
I identify as a queer person of colour (QPOC), from the Sikh faith, and having Punjabi cultural roots, with a working class background. I am all of these aspects of my identity – all of the time.
So as a gay guy – I can be subject to homophobia. Being a person of colour – I have to deal with racism. Coming from a working class background – I can experience discrimination. Belonging to a particular faith/cultural community – means I can encounter prejudice. When looking at this through an intersectional lens – these barriers and hurdles converge and can all be experienced at the same time. So for me, just to be me, can involve having to navigate discriminatory systems in society that have been designed to marginalise, silence and oppress.
Do you find one characteristic dominates more than the others or does this vary in different situations? Could you explain your answer?
I’m comfortable with my identity – though I can experience different feelings, depending on situations.
Being a person of colour is a visible aspect of my identity – whereas my sexuality, or my class, faith and cultural backgrounds are not necessarily visible. So when I’m in the minority amongst white people – I’m more tuned in to racism being an issue, whereas in a situation where I’m predominantly amongst straight people – I may be heightened to homophobia. In other scenarios – I may be alert to derogatory views and comments about working class people. I can experience some or all of these at the same time within a given situation – that’s where intersectionality bites hardest.
If you link these scenarios to where others have privilege, position and power – you can begin to understand how societies, cultures and workplaces begin to enforce barriers and hurdles.
Intersectionality is being recognised more by public and private sectors right now. Why do you think this is so?
More people are talking about intersectionality because we haven’t made the progress towards DEI that we thought we would have made. Prejudice and discrimination continue to blight employment opportunities, in all sectors, meaning barriers to progression have not been tackled. In wider society, certain aspects of oppression are being reinforced with increasing levels of racism, homo/bi/trans phobia, disability hate crime and religious/cultural intolerance.
How would you advise intersectionality is recognised better in the workplace? Can you name a number of ways in which the Met has been working on this or where it can make in-roads?
Leaders in workplaces need to acknowledge intersectionality exists – only then can change become a possibility. Once leaders make that conscious effort to address workplace prejudices and discriminations – then progress can become a reality. All too often, employers make aspirational claims about meritocratic workplaces but their leaders are firmly resistant to change. Basic logic tells you that you cannot achieve difference by staying the same.
I’m not sure the Met, like a lot of employers, has grasped the concept of intersectionality. The Met seems to have a blinkered focus on simply recruiting more BAME people, or more women, into its ranks and staff. However, the experiences of racism and gender discrimination can still be an issue for some – meaning the intersectional experiences of BAME females are not addressed. Likewise, simply wanting to recruit more people who identify as LGBTQ+ into the organisation does not address the issues of racism and homo/bi/trans phobia that QPOCs may encounter.
The Met LGBT+ Network has taken the lead on discussions around intersectionality by consistently raising these issues with other Staff Support Associations, and by engaging with community organisations that reflect the diverse communities of London. I’m proud to see these achievements recognised and for the LGBT+ Network to be shortlisted in the ‘Building a better Met’ category at the Met Excellence Awards 2020!
What has been your experience of intersectionality within the Met, personally, as well as organisationally?
I think the Met as an organisation has a long way to go – the first step is to acknowledge multiple barriers and prejudices exist. There are pockets of good practice that may become central to the DNA of the organisation, perhaps in the future. Personally, I began addressing inequalities in the workplace over 20 years ago as a Co-Founder of the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Ethnic Minorities Forum. At times, it feels like conversations I see taking place in the Met right now are a throwback to those PwC days!
On a personal level, I’ve always addressed instances of negativity, bad behaviour and poor treatment directed towards me with the specific individuals concerned. I’m also more confident to speak up and highlight issues that need to be discussed, and just as importantly, to champion individuals and good practice where they exist. I’m comfortable speaking about intersectionality as it’s the main focus of my contribution to the Met LGBT+ Network Committee, and fortunately I’ve had great support from colleagues and line managers. I’ve been able to represent the Met LGBT+ Network as a guest panellist and speaker at DEI events with Stonewall, British Transport Police, The Telegraph and Knowledge Quarter – and I also recently featured in a podcast with an award-winning author and DEI specialist, which you can listen to here.
The topic of intersectionality in policing has steadily risen up the agenda, and it was promising to see the National LGBT+ Police Network making it the theme of their annual conference in 2020. I was due to be a keynote speaker – though this has been postponed for obvious reasons due to Covid-19.
What are the opportunities around intersectionality for the Met?
The Met’s leaders must firstly acknowledge intersectionality exists – and begin a journey to understand the damaging effects it can have in the workplace and throughout organisational culture. When leaders actually start to see individuals working in the Met for who they truly are, the lived experiences they bring, and what and who holds them back – they can begin to change the culture to address inequalities that exist, instead of maintaining a constant state of denial. Once you have that organisational shift internally, the Met would then have a better focus on outwards engagement with communities – it would have a greater understanding of London and Londoners. The Met would become more in-step with this great city – with opportunities for increased confidence in policing from all communities.
Why should the Met and others be utilising these lived experiences?
Since I joined the Met 11 years ago, I have consistently maintained my sense of self – which at times has been challenging when navigating an organisation with institutional behaviours and practices. Like all employees, I bring a unique set of lived experiences and knowledge – which go beyond possibly featuring in a poster ad or recruitment campaign. For the Met to move forward – it needs to embrace all its employees, to listen to their concerns, and engage them with a sense of belonging – leaders need to show that all employees have a stake in the organisation. Also, the Met could place Staff Support Associations at the centre of its decision making, be more transparent with employees and the public about problems that exist, and commit to community engagement with all of London’s communities with the same vigour in order to work towards solutions. Crucially, this means understanding that some of its officers and staff belong to, and have strong connections with, often marginalised and oppressed communities – those connections and lived experiences go beyond simply images.
So if the Met wants to truly embrace DEI, it needs to understand that these discussions start within – centred around a culture of honesty and speaking truth – after all, that’s what we expect from the public
Source: Extract from the Met LGBT+ Network’s newsletter ‘Out & Proud’, May 2020.