How representative is the housing association workforce of the communities we serve?

Kate Henderson, 30 November 2020

I am proud to work in a sector where our social purpose guides our daily actions and motivations. Social housing is rooted in redressing inequality and acknowledging that different people have different needs. Our housing association members provide homes for over six million people in England. Each person and each community is different, so does our workforce reflect this? And if not, why not?

We have worked with the Housing Diversity Network (HDN) to publish a new report: Equality, diversity and inclusion: an insight review of housing association staff in England. It reveals the current landscape of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in our sector, it examines the evidence that exists to understand where we are now, and it highlights the gaps in data that we have. We are publishing this report because, in order to make meaningful change, we must better understand the problem.

It is difficult to build a clear picture of the sector because of the lack of data available, but the insights we have gathered suggest the sector’s workforce is not representative of the communities we serve. Here are just a few of the insights from the report that show how much work we have to do.

  • 39.7% of executives were women in 2019[i], this is compared with 59.3% of housing association homes in England that were headed by a woman in 2018/19.[ii]
  • Only 4.8% of board members identified as disabled in 2019,[iii] this is compared with 53% of housing association households in 2018/19.[iv]
  • 5% of executives in the top 50 housing associations were BAME in 2019,[v] but 9% of housing association homes in England were headed by a BAME person in 2018/19.[vi]

This is just a small snapshot of what we have learnt when gathering insights for this new report, and I hope they will help us all recognise the scale of the work we have to do.

The report focuses on the workforce of our sector because, for our sector to truly be the best it can be and represent the interests of the communities we serve, our next cohort of chief executives, board members, and senior executives must capture the breadth of talent that exists.

This year has tested our resilience more than I could ever have imagined and housing associations have been working incredibly hard to support residents through the coronavirus crisis. However, we can’t ignore that the crisis has highlighted the unacceptable inequalities that exist in England. We have also witnessed a global movement to end racism, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained support once more after the murder of George Floyd.

While it can feel we are living through dark times, there is opportunity for positive change, and we must drive this change now.

As a sector we are varied, there are housing associations and networks who have been working hard to champion EDI in the sector for decades, who we look to for guidance and challenge when we embark on our EDI work.

But there are some organisations who have not started that journey yet, and there are those who do not believe that it is an issue we need to address. That’s why we are asking everyone in our sector to read this important report, share it, and use it as a tool to educate yourself on the reality of EDI in our sector.

At the NHF, we are not where we want to be yet, but we commit to improve EDI both within our own organisation and throughout the sector. We established our EDI in Housing member group last year to help us with this. The professionals on the group are working with us to show leadership and help us to drive tangible change over the next few years and have been a great support in producing this report. It’s clear that there is a lot more work to be done around the collection of data within the sector to build a clear and accurate picture of our workforce. The group are working with us on some exciting plans for next year to tackle this issue.

For too long we have seen EDI as a project rather than an organisational value that should be embedded into company culture and policies. This insight report marks the start of our sector-wide work on EDI focused on culture. It won’t happen overnight, but we are committed to making long-term change and we invite you to join us.

Please note that the comparative statistics within this report are built on household reference data as historically the sector does not publish aggregated data on individual housing association residents.

[i] From 61 housing associations, Inside Housing survey 2019

[ii] NHF analysis of English Housing Survey 2018/19

[iii] From 61 housing associations, Inside Housing survey 2019

[iv] 53% of housing association households had at least one member who was disabled or had a long-term illness in 2018/19, NHF analysis of English Housing Survey 2018/19

[v] Altair, 2019

[vi] NHF analysis of English Housing Survey 2018/19