Bringing new and different perspectives onto boards – my experience of Raising Roofs

Raising Roofs prepares younger people for board positions in the housing association sector, recognising that diversity is essential for effective leadership and decision-making.

Nick Yandle is a Policy Leader at the National Housing Federation

Nick Yandle is a Policy Leader at the National Housing Federation

28 February 2019

When I first joined the housing association sector as a relatively junior member of staff, ‘the board’ felt like a distant concept. I had little understanding of who sat on housing association boards, or what skills they required.

I’ve been in the sector now for a little over six years – the first in a large housing association and the last three at the National Housing Federation. I’ve consistently heard about the importance of good governance, and the role of housing association boards as the ultimate stewards of their organisations.

As my career has developed, I’ve had the opportunity to work more on the governance and regulation of housing associations, including drafting a number of papers that have ultimately made their way to the board.

It was moving to the Federation that truly opened my eyes to the importance of boards, as I was able to work across the whole sector and see first-hand the diversity of our sector. I saw how the mix of skills, personalities, backgrounds and opinions on boards has a direct impact on organisational culture and strategic decision making. This has been particularly pronounced during a period of change and scrutiny for the sector. The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower took this to a new level, as organisations interrogated their assurance and risk management procedures at all levels.

As my understanding of boards increased, I began to look more closely at their composition and possible routes in for new members. I’ll be honest – at first my perception was that boards are solely the preserve of vastly experienced and often retired professionals, often from within the sector. I also noted the increasing practice of recruiting similar professionals from the private sector, and the much-debated role of tenants on boards. What I didn’t see was any route in, or demand for, someone of my age and with my background or expertise.

That was until I heard about Raising Roofs.

Raising Roofs is a programme to prepare younger people for board positions in the housing association sector. It recognises that diversity is essential for effective leadership and decision-making, and seeks to fill a clear gap in the sector by investing in younger professionals.

The quality of training and development is exceptional, and left those of us on the first cohort in no doubt as to what would be expected from us as board members. Crucially, we felt like we could really add value to the right organisation.

We discussed how the data shows that organisations that value and invest in diversity outperform those that don’t. We gained a much deeper understanding of what diversity means in terms of how we communicate, make decisions and respond under pressure. My favourite session was probably on negotiation – something we do every day without thinking, but to learn specific tools and techniques was invaluable.

By the end of the programme I had an even better understanding of what housing association boards are currently grappling with, and how the future success of the sector will require effective and diverse leadership. I was also confident that should the right role at the right organisation become available, I would be able to fulfil my responsibilities as a board member and play my part in delivering the sector’s social purpose.

Find out more about Raising Roofs.

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