How we’re promoting open and fair board recruitment at ForHousing

Colette McKune, 18 November 2021

Improving *equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is critical to creating empathy and trust at ForHousing and across the wider housing sector.

The National Housing Federation’s (NHF) Code of Governance 2020, Social Housing White Paper, ESG standards and the Regulator of Social Housing have all been clear that boards are responsible for overseeing the culture and diversity of organisations ensuring both residents and staff have their voices heard.

The NHF’s Code of Governance requires boards to demonstrate “a clear and active commitment to achieve equality of opportunity, diversity and inclusion in all of the organisation’s activities, as well as in its own composition”.

It also commits organisations to ensuring that the “membership of board and committees comprises people with diverse backgrounds and attributes, having regard to the diversity of the communities the organisation serves.”

Organisations must show leadership on EDI from the very highest level. At ForHousing, we recently completed a competitive and open recruitment exercise resulting in the appointment of a new chair and four new members join the board. We adopted the NHF’s EDI in Housing member group’s guidance for board member recruitment to improve the overall process.  

Board member recruitment process

Below is a review of what we did under each stage of the board member recruitment guidance.

1. Understand what you need 

It’s really important we are led by a skilled and diverse board that reflects the needs of the organisation and the communities we serve.  To help achieve us understand our need, we developed a skills matrix based on a review of the organisation’s strategy and identified clear skills and experience gaps this included EDI.

The recruitment was then specifically targeted to these areas.  We looked carefully at the criteria for the roles and removed requirements that we thought may prevent a diverse range of people applying.

2. Clearly state your need

As it’s important to provide applicants with an honest view of what your organisation is really like, an advert, person specification, job description and company information were provided for the recruitment along with renumeration and time commitment. 

We have worked hard at sharing our values and purpose, along with the work we do through a six-month social media campaign that included videos and case studies.

3. Reach far and wide

We knew that we needed to identify gaps in our current board and targeted these areas.  

We made sure that the applicant pool was diverse so when we moved to the selection stage, we would have a range of talented people to select from.

4. Test what you need

For the recruitment of the Chair, we utilised a gender balanced selection panel which included a BAME leader from our internal diversity service excellence group. We were also conscious to make all candidates feel as comfortable as possible through an interview pre-briefing and access to me as Chief Executive.

For all recruitment, each assessment also included a practical element – a scenario, or board paper - which the candidate had to consider and reflect. 

Cognitive experience and lived experience are equally important, so the interview process was aimed at identifying different perspectives. This included questions relating to failure, role modelling, biases, learning and connecting with social housing communities. 

5. Review, reflect and reinforce

The recruitment process for board members and employees has been reviewed by internal employee groups, our recruitment agency, and an independent EDI consultant.

We’ve learned a lot from the board member recruitment process, and have agreed going forward we will: 

  • Review all assessment materials including interview questions to ensure they are all measurable and not open to allowing bias to influence the process.
  • Create diversity related guidance (within policies) in relation to recruitment, management, and general treatment of colleagues and board members.
  • Ensure all managers and directors are trained in the recruitment processes especially in the areas of diversity and bias.
  • Wherever possible, include diversity on assessment and interview panels.
  • Agree KPIs for attracting diverse talent to the organisation.
  • Use application monitoring forms to ensure that diversity in applications can be recorded and monitored to inform future strategies.
  • Ensure reference templates request only the required information and that they do not allow the opportunity for bias.
  • Adopt a guaranteed interview scheme for BAME applicants for management roles and above.

6. Remove potential bias from all stages

We know that this is a challenge. So, we have appointed an independent consultant to support our review of all recruitment and assessment materials and help remove unconscious bias from our recruitment practices. We’re also working hard to remove bias from the processes we use to develop board members and develop and manage colleagues. 

Following the five new appointments to the ForHousing board, BAME membership has increased from 10% to 20% and LGBT membership has increased from 10% to 30%.

We know we still have a way to go. We will always be learning and improving and are looking forward to working with our Board, tenants and staff to continuously review our culture and improve the diversity of ForHousing so we truly are the equitable, diverse and inclusive organisation we strive to be.

*In our organisation we refer to EDI as equity, diversity and inclusion. This is because equity (rather than equality) is the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that may prevent this.