Diversity and Inclusion are right to be top of the agenda across not only the housing sector but all organisational structures in modern society. We cannot function as an inclusive wider community if at structural level only a small section of the whole is spoken for, understood and seen to be a part of any forward movement as we evolve into the future. As a public sector-led industry, it can be argued that social housing has an obligation to uphold its values and ethos towards fairness and equally, as its foundations are built upon these very principles.
“Fairness is not an additional cost on the public sector. Fairness is why we have a public sector” – Peter Latchford, visiting professor of enterprise at Birmingham City University & Chief Executive of Black Radley.
How Do We Quantify The Benefits Of Diversity and Equality?
The benefits of a more diverse and inclusive organisational culture are widely known and acknowledged. From an equality and impartiality standpoint there can be no doubt that the fairer, more open and transparent the playing field, the better chance of not only creating a more equal society, but nurturing and developing greater talent from a much more enriched and varied pool of candidates in the workforce, which in turn brings tangible benefits to organisations, as well as representing more comprehensively the wider client and service user base.
From a business perspective, the benefits of sustaining and supporting a more diverse and inclusive culture can be seen and measured clearly. Several research studies, including MckInsey (whose latest publications support their Diversity Matters study of a 35% improvement in financial returns compared to the industry median), The Altair Review (which gives a comprehensive business case for driving innovation and performance through diversity and inclusion strategies), and LSE Consulting (who conducted a global review of diversity and inclusion in business innovation), give much weight to this. All three studies outline a very clear message – every business model whether public, private or third sector, can benefit from, and should have, a fit for purpose diversity and inclusion strategy if it is to survive and drive the emerging changes affecting wider society and industry as a whole.
How Is the Social Housing Sector Driving Change?
Several Housing Associations are taking a positive lead in developing progressive diverse and inclusive policies and strategies throughout their organisations, and Greenacre have been speaking to a range of organisations on the changing face of their company cultures. Wolverhampton Homes, for example, have recognised early on that not only is having an embedded diversity and inclusion strategy important for employees, it also benefits their customers and helps the entire organisation to become more dynamic, innovative and ground-breaking. “If we have a more diverse workforce, we are able to better engage with our customers, understand their needs and be relatable to them. It also brings a variety of different views, perspectives and ideas when reviewing policies and services enabling us to be more creative and innovative with our decision making.” (Tina Wood, Head of People services).
But how does an organisation implement, sustain and monitor its actions? One way is to regularly review and redefine corporate values as it actively encourages a more diverse and inclusive culture. “One of our values is to ‘Respect Differences’ both internally among colleagues and towards our customers. We also have a number of staff network groups which are valued. Our ‘Equality Champions’ and ‘Proud To Be Me’ groups jointly delivered RESPECT training which was mandatory for all staff to attend and was a hard hitting course challenging the way staff think and behave towards others. We have recently established ‘Our Voice’ as our newest staff network/consultative group and they ensure that every team within Wolverhampton Homes has a voice and will share any idea’s, feedback and suggestions to our Senior Managers.” (Tina Wood, Head of People services).
L&Q Homes are also standing out as leaders in the development and sustained drive towards Diversity and Equality throughout their organisational culture, and have been steadily integrating this change across all tiers of the organisation post-merger for quite some time, whilst having inclusion as one of its core organisational values has helped to cement and mainstream this pledge. But this type of commitment has not come without its own challenges along the way, not least in the form of financial constraints, as well as the odd pockets of apathy and hostility towards the agenda. “We have a platform of investment and a proud history in D & I going back a number of years, however as an organisation we obviously need to live within our means and cannot do everything we would wish – this is true across our business and we need to heavily prioritise our investment to deliver best value for money. And sometimes there have been challenges from individuals supporting particular areas of the agenda but not overall diversity (e.g. hostility to LGBT inclusion). This requires continual comms & engagement from corporate channels celebrating success and ‘what good looks like’. We are also very careful to ensure there is a critical mass of people who ‘get it’ (through explicit recruitment questions) and ensuring their role modelling is captured and highlighted.” (Jan Gale, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at L&Q). There is a case for ensuring all staff members of a service provider are on board with cultural conduct and values with initiatives such as the mandatory RESPECT training sessions to uphold diversity and inclusion standards at L&Q, and identify those pockets, such as at Wolverhampton and indeed across the wider sector, who may not necessarily initially recognise the importance of driving such values.
Adapting, Reacting And Learning from Each Other
It is clear that having an inclusive and diverse culture is business critical to the modern housing provider and is vital for maintaining and upkeeping high standards across the sector, whilst creating a better service for tenants, and a more recognisable interface that a wider range of service user can identify with. But how can we come together as a sector to guarantee this is truly embedded in social housing culture, and how can we ensure we are keeping up with other industry sectors in achieving this balance?
We can all learn from each other on these things, says Jan Gale: “All organisations have areas of great practice and areas for development. For housing providers, there are two stark issues: Trust – post-Grenfell in particular, trust levels between social housing tenants and housing providers is low. Part of the problem is that when residents look at the senior leaders taking the critical decisions about their safety, security and prosperity, they don’t see people like them. Having a diverse workforce at all levels can go some way to remedying this. And the housing crisis – if we keep doing the same things that we always have done, then we’re not going to change the housing situation in the UK. The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce are needed as part of the approach to tackling what would be the defining issue of this generation, if it were not for Brexit.”
Tina Wood agrees with this sentiment. “In the Housing sector we work with people from all backgrounds. It is important that our workforce represents the community it serves. We must also be mindful that there are more challenges affecting the housing sector and our customers now so we must look to ensure that our services change to reflect the needs of our customers and that no one is disproportionately affected or disadvantaged. [As sector we must] be open to new ideas. It is one of our core values at Wolverhampton Homes and by embracing this we have made changes to the way we deliver our services.”
As a sector we still have a fair way to go on addressing may of the complex issues surrounding equality and diversity, however there are some great teams and individuals leading the way on driving the change.
In part 2 of our diversity an equality series we will be looking at how unconscious bias and choice of language can play a part in how we recruit and select our housing talent, and will be observing examples from the private sector, as well as contributions from more of the UK’s top senior housing professionals on successful strategies and practice, and thoughts on the next steps needed to address the current challenges in creating a more diverse social housing culture at every level of the housing sector.
Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and collaborates with the team and wider network on Leadership, Human Resources, Change Management issues and the challenges and transitions currently facing the UK housing sector.