Sarah Kincaid, Director of Strategy
Thursday 21 September 2023
As the BBC, Channel 4, production companies and the wider entertainment industry reflects on the allegations against Russell Brand and how best to respond to them, Crest’s Sarah Kincaid, who led Baroness Casey’s review of standards of behaviour and internal culture at the Metropolitan Police Service, and previously inspected Rotherham Council after the 2014 grooming scandal, shares her lessons on reviewing allegations of misogyny, sexual misconduct and toxic workplace cultures.
1. Listen to what people say, not what they want you to hear
Baroness Casey and her team were invited into the Met to examine its culture and standards and what could be done to improve them in the light of terrible acts of criminality by police officers. On arrival we were not able to ascertain what problems the leadership thought existed. ‘Don’t forget to mention the good stuff’, we were often told. Often those at the top don’t know what is happening in their organisations because they are looking down from too great a height. They listen to what they’re told by people who tell them what they want to hear; they have ceased to be curious, and frankly they would rather not see - a phenomenon brilliantly articulated by Margaret Heffernan in her book Wilful Blindness. This, of course, doesn’t absolve them of responsibility - wilful blindness is not a defence. As a rule, if the leadership constantly talks up progress and denies the lived experience of the people who work for them, the problems aren’t actually hidden - they’re just being ignored.
2. You need to build your credibility every day
Just because you’ve been appointed to lead a review doesn’t mean people will come running to tell you what has been going on. In an organisation with deep-rooted problems such as misogyny or racism, or one where the unwritten rules are to keep your head down and conform or suffer the consequences, it can be very hard for a review to think ‘this time it will be different’. Baroness Casey took it as her personal mission to assure people that this time it would be different. A review team needs to be visible, talking to people at all levels - as individuals or in groups - and to offer a range of routes for people to follow up if they want to say more. You need to think carefully about the audience you’re seeking to reach - what are the barriers and obstacles facing them and how can you remove these through what you say and do while you’re there? After we published an interim report on misconduct, Met staff contacted us in greater numbers and opened up more when sharing their experiences, because they felt their voice would finally be heard if they spoke up.
3. Don’t be surprised if the paperwork is all in order
An organisation’s policies and processes may not reveal much. Disciplinary policies will tend to be in order with step by step escalation processes for unacceptable behaviour and there will probably already be anti-bullying and discrimination policies (and the leadership will insist it deals robustly with wrongdoing). In the Met, we were surrounded by reams of statutory misconduct provisions, amendments, guidance and the Met’s own operating procedures. In Rotherham, we were provided with clear policies on child sexual exploitation and safeguarding and told about a national award for their work on exploitation. The simple truth is that where scandals and wrongdoing occur, they usually do so not because of the absence or inadequacies of those policies and procedures, but in the space between the policy and the experiences of those in the organisation. It is in that space, where the culture of the organisation, its values and its priorities sits, that you start to understand how the organisation really works - and how that allows problems such as misogyny, racism and abuse to flourish.
4. Interrogating the data and gathering your own is vital
Data can help with getting closer to uncovering problems. When we first asked for misconduct data, we found it hard to see a picture from the summary data beyond high level grounds for misconduct, numbers of cases closed and how long cases had taken to close. Once we were able to open up the full data set ourselves and ask our own questions, we saw that this summary data (used often for performance management) didn’t cover all the misconduct cases but those closed that year. Digging further showed us that 20% of those accused of misconduct had more than one allegation made against them and that the vast majority of these officers remained in post. And digging deeper again, we were able to look at individual level data and from there put together case studies on individuals that revealed the reality of the Met’s inability to manage the misconduct of its officers. Examined on a more granular level, the data began to yield a huge amount of information. We also conducted our own independent survey to find out for the first time what proportion of employees had personal experiences of bullying (answer 22%) and didn’t just take the data we were given.
5. You need to tell it like it is to have real impact
The devil is in the details. Details like the fridges and freezers held together by bungie leads in which the Met stored rape kits from women who had experienced sexual assaults and violence and, in one case, had broken down during hot weather, leading to the spoiling of evidence. This exemplified the institutional failings of the organisation and its failure to protect women and girls. Or the details of the appalling experiences of brave officers who shared their testimony directly with us (14 of which are published in the final report). Statistics are obviously crucial, but can only take you so far. A successful review is built on the facts and details which typically don’t come to light and command attention and recognition when you change that, however disturbing they may be. The most powerful examples of failure are often ones people can relate to and which leaders have no choice but to accept. In Rotherham, we were tasked with establishing whether council was fit for purpose as it then was. But this wasn’t possible without exploring what had happened before when at least 1,400 children had been groomed. It was the denials from the council that they had any responsibility for their past failure to act in the best interests of these vulnerable young people which proved the case against them in the present day.
For more information about Crest’s work on reviews and inquiries visit https://www.crestadvisory.com/inquiries.