The benefits of embracing sexuality and gender diversity: Lessons learned from the Australian police

The New South Wales (NSW) Police Force has undertaken a series of initiatives aimed at supporting employees and community members who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual. We speak to the pioneer of these programs, Superintendent Tony Crandell, about why this became a priority for a policing agency and what business leaders could learn from their experience.

“We’re in a different world of policing at the moment,” says NSW Police Force Superintendent and Local Area Commander, Tony Crandell. “To go to the police about a crime that has involved prejudice or bias because of sexual orientation – that requires a great deal of courage and a great deal of trust in the police that you’re dealing with”

This is the key issue which Superintendent Crandell has been seeking to address in his role as the corporate sponsor of sexuality and gender diversity for the 20,000 strong NSW Police Force, who serve a population of around 7.5 million. He is responsible for driving inclusive work practices across NSW Police Force with a dual focus on internal inclusion among staff, and promoting inclusion within the community.

Earlier this year, in what was a well-publicised step towards inclusion in NSW, Superintendent Crandell apologised for the arrest and mistreatment of protesters advocating for equality at the time of Sydney’s 1978 Mardi Gras. Thirty-eight years after the event, we spoke with Superintendent Crandell to understand what the NSW Police Force does today to be inclusive of lesbian, gay and bisexual people – as employees, and as members of the broader community.

Superintendent Crandell shared some key learnings from his experience, which could help other business leaders:

  • Don’t aim to improve, aim to lead – “We must make sure that we move society in the right direction – not just move with society, but take a leadership role”
  • Make your message loud and unambiguous – “The community will only trust us if we can send out enough messaging to say “we’re here to understand you and support you” – and the more that message gets out, the more trust we’ll achieve”
  • Make your inclusion champions highly visible – Police who are suitably trained wear a pink badge, to help build trust in members of the community who traditionally have been reluctant coming to the police for help
  • Invest in your culture of empathy – Superintendent Crandell suggests focusing efforts on changing the fabric of the organisation, such as with recruitment processes, training, and advocating mutual respect as a core value. These are initiatives for sustained improvement.

What does it mean for an organisation to be inclusive of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees?

I think it means ensuring equal and fair treatment – not special treatment, but equal treatment. All lesbian, gay and bisexual employees want is a fair go and if anything of a sexuality or diversity nature comes into the way that a person is treated, that is entirely inappropriate. If we truly believe in diversity and valuing people for who they are, we need to embrace these concepts. Sexual orientation to me is pretty well irrelevant – if anything, we should be stepping into the recruitment area whereby we can recruit as many lesbian, gay and bisexual people as possible. That would enhance not only an organisation but its reputation as an employer of choice.

What do you see as being the main business benefit of addressing lesbian, gay and bisexual inclusion?

I think it’s important as a policing agency that we reflect the values and make-up of our communities. If we actively attract lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, then we become more representative and we gain a greater understanding of difficulties within that particular community. The same applies for other organisations and their clients.

If you talk to a lesbian, gay or bisexual person, you will find that many of those people have a story or experience that is unacceptable by today’s standards. I think that when you compare where we are today with where we were in the past, then we’ve come a long way but we must recognise that there’s still a long way to go. We must make sure that we move society in the right direction – not just move with society, but take a leadership role.

Insofar as the community is NSW Police’s client, do you feel that it is important for organisations to realise that they need to internally reflect the diverse make-up of their clients?

Absolutely, because with that representation comes understanding. In being representative of the community, organisations can better empathise with their client, and can better solve the issues or problems the client may be facing. In the not-too-distant future it should well be a thing of the past that sexuality or orientation really matters – because it doesn’t. We need to go deeper than that and find out about a person’s abilities and exactly who they are. Nobody should be ashamed of who they are. Once we get people to sit down and have a long, hard think about those internal values, I think we’ll go a long way.

At NSW Police, we get a great deal of value out of getting trust with the community. The community will only trust us if we can send out enough messaging to say “we’re here to understand you and support you” – and the more that message gets out, the more trust we’ll achieve.

What do you see as the main challenge in creating an inclusive workplace for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees?

The main challenge from my perspective is communication, particularly when it’s across a large organisation. Not only do we at NSW Police have more than 20, 000 employees but we’re right across the state with vast distances, so we really need to get that communication strategy down pat. We do that with our Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers: they become our go-to people, and they become representatives of what the organisation now values around diversity, sexuality and gender. So with all of those people right across the state, we can get positive and consistent messages out about what we truly value. When members of the community see that, they are not only attracted to us as a potential employer but also attracted to us as a policing organisation that can assist, help and protect them should any need arise in that regard.

What strategies or programs has NSW Police implemented to promote lesbian, gay and bisexual inclusion?

Key to inclusion is our Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officer community and development program. These officers are a growing representative sample of police in NSW. We actually identify them with a big, pink badge that not only indicates to the community but to our staff that these people have been trained in diversity; they understand differences in terms of sexuality and orientation, and can be trusted to provide support whenever and wherever required.

Is NSW Police leading in this area, and is this a nation-wide trend?

It is a trend – NSW Police is the first policing agency to have the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers. We’re closely followed by Victoria. When you have a look at some of the apologies that have come out of Victorian Police, it’s really encouraging because I think that we must, as an organisation, acknowledge that there have been issues in the past and that we need to take steps now, from our position in history, to change perceptions and to change the way that we interact with people, particular those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

What was your thinking behind making the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers visible through the badge?

We’re in a different world of policing at the moment, particularly with the threat of terrorism. However, when officers do the courses and get accreditation, I think it’s really important that we promote them not only within the organisation but also outside. The reason I say that is that there is a clearly a reluctance from many lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals to engage and speak about sexuality. They may not even wish to disclose sexuality, which is completely acceptable. So to go that next step and go to the police about a crime that has involved prejudice or bias because of sexual orientation, that requires a great deal of courage and a great deal of trust in the police that you’re dealing with. Someone who does wish to discuss this should be able to have a look and see what police are available to them and have some idea of whether they’d be comfortable speaking with that police officer.  If we get the message out into the community around who these police are and what they’re interested in –that gives people the chance in today’s digital age to determine whether or not they would like to engage with that particular police officer and ask for that police officer.

How can we make workplaces more inclusive of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff? What can people do at the individual level?

At the individual level, any training or capacity-building of the individual that they can get – then by all means, do it. I have officers that come into our Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officer program and walk out saying that it’s the best program that they’ve ever been through. And that’s because we’re really embedding equality, fair treatment and mutual respect – all those qualities that you really want to have not only in an organisation but also in individuals. So I would recommend that people have a look at some websites such as Out Leadership and Out for Australia, which are really good and have a lot of education opportunities.

Even just reading about what’s going on around the world and seeing in some countries the inequality that’s placed upon lesbians, gays and bisexuals – it brings it home how we really need to drive forward in this space. You don’t have to go too far to see people who are persecuted, put to death, face a death penalty or face a life of imprisonment simply for an orientation that they are born with and have no control over. That is completely unacceptable and should motivate our individual and collective behaviour of absolute inclusion.

For more information, please contact Murray Dixon (mdixon@deloitte.com.au) or Superintendent Tony Crandell (cran1ant@police.nsw.gov.au).

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