‘If you’re too comfortable, you’re not learning’ – increasing diversity on boards at Believe

Judith Common, 16 January 2023

Being part of the group of board members working with the NHF on how to improve diversity has been a significant learning opportunity for me. Working with other likeminded individuals who've got the depth and breadth of experience and can bring something different to the table to see what are we doing now to improve diversity on boards, and what can we do differently in the future.

I've been on the board now for a number of years, so I've seen some changes along the way. Our vision at Believe is that people should be able to live a life without barriers; we're constantly looking at any barriers that are in place, and what we need to do to remove those.When I look at the board, it is a majority of older white people. We need to increase that diversity of thought, and make sure that the board is more representative of our communities and what we're doing as an organization. If we want clones of ourselves then we're never going to increase diversity on boards.

It’s really important that the business is viable, but within that there's lots of scope for doing things differently. The hardest challenge is attracting applications in the first place. We recognize that the traditional approach to recruitment is to select people like us, but it's the people who are really challenging us that you might get the most learning from, that are making you sit back and think. If you're too comfortable, you're not growing, you're not learning.

That’s why we’re running a two-year board trainee programme. It’s for around five people – we’ve had maybe 30 express an interest. They don’t have the traditional non-executive experience that we would otherwise look for. We knew traditional applications just don’t work, so we filmed videos promoting the opportunity and we advertised it at bus shelters all over the northeast. We recognise that the trainees may not stay with Believe, they may go to another housing provider or charity in the northeast, but we're quite happy to have an altruistic view about providing development for individuals in the governance arena.

For me to be part of the group of chairs working with the NHF on this and to be able to put it into practice pretty much immediately has been really useful. I'm so pleased to have met some really interesting individuals along the way that have helped to challenge the way we think. I think I've always been fairly open minded and a creative thinker – but it got me to think in a different way, which is great.
There’s no time like the present. There's always 101 reasons why it's not the right time to do something well instead of just saying, you know what? Let's just get on with it. And if it doesn't work, then you learn: what do we need to do differently next time? You learn as much from a mistake as you do from something that goes really well.