Housing associations are driven by strong social values, and this is one of the things I love about working in our sector. But there is more that we can and should be doing to ensure our leadership is diverse, and that our workplaces embrace equality.
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive, National Housing Federation
15 August 2019
I want to invite you all to join us in building a more diverse and inclusive sector. There is already some great practice, but there is a lot more we can do by learning from each other. We’re looking for a group of proactive people from housing associations across the country to work with us to get this right, and be the change we all want to see.
I’m no stranger to unconscious bias – a key barrier to increasing diversity – myself. In my previous role at the Town and Country Planning Association, I was both the youngest and first woman Chief Executive in the charity’s 120 year history. I loved the job, but found that in my first few years in the role when I went to meetings or events, people often made a judgement based on my age and gender and probably because I don’t look much like them.
I was once invited to be the guest speaker at a dinner for business leaders. When the guests arrived, the first asked me to get him a drink, the second asked me where the toilets were and by the time the third guest asked where they could hang their coat I realised that they thought I was the waitress. I guess they looked at me and it didn't cross their minds that I was the guest speaker. I've also been a token women on conference panels countless times, which has made me wonder if I've been invited to help address the (lack of) gender balance or if I'm there because the conference organiser thinks I've got something interesting to say.
We’ve all come across stories like this which make us hope for better things.
What is the Federation already doing?
Internally, we’re beginning our journey to make the Federation a more diverse, equal and inclusive place to work. I’ve seen a clear passion from staff that see this as a welcome opportunity for change. We’ve set up a staff led internal group, which I’m an active member of. It’s a great opportunity for me to hear what people think, and has already led to some positive changes in the way that we approach this piece of work.
One of the first changes the group decided on was to adopt a version of the Rooney Rule, where we commit to interviewing at least one candidate from a BME (black and minority ethnic group) background, providing they meet the essential criteria for the role. It’s a really positive step for us and I look forward to seeing the results.
Most recently, I’m so pleased to announce that we have closed the gender pay gap at the Federation. While this is a real improvement from last year, I know that we are a small organisation and it only takes a small number of changes to affect the results year to year. I’m really proud that we’ve achieved this, but I also know that it’s not an issue that we can now be complacent about – and I don’t plan to be.
I’m looking at this work as an opportunity for us to attract amazing new talent and make sure we have a work environment that is inclusive to everyone, so that we know we’re making the best decisions that we can. One of our big priorities over the next three years is building trust in housing. We can’t build trust with residents without improving and cementing our record in diversity.
How you can get involved
I look forward to creating a plan with our members, which helps us to secure a deep understanding of the challenges our sector faces, and supports us to tackle these challenges together.
We need your help to do this well.
That’s why I’m hoping that you’ll apply to join our national member group if you have experience of improving diversity, equality and inclusion in your organisation, or if your organisation wants to do more. The deadline for applications is 5 September.
I can’t wait for us to get started. in the meantime, please get in touch if you want to find out more.