How not to be having the same conversations on race in 10 years’ time

Kate Henderson, 01 April 2021

There were so many interesting and important sessions at the National Housing Summit last week, but one that has particularly stayed with me was ‘Rethinking the sector’s approach to racial equality’.

This feels even more relevant following the reaction to the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report published yesterday.

The Summit session reflected on how the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, and the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected BAME communities has rightly forced all of us to question our own biases and to challenge ourselves to do better. And the housing association sector is no exception.

As anchor organisations that provide homes and services to richly diverse communities, housing associations have a key role in championing racial equality and ensuring residents live and thrive in places that are truly inclusive.

Are we always getting this right? No we aren’t. But I am sure of the drive and commitment in our sector for learning and for making the leaps and bounds needed to deliver long-lasting and meaningful change.

At the Summit session, Tracey Gore, Chair of the Liverpool Race Equality Taskforce, implored us to have “those honest conversations” that are “very difficult” and “very challenging” but impossible for us to ignore in taking this journey.

While Cym D’Souza, Chief Executive of Arawak Walton Housing Association, rightly asked us all to look at the diversity of our staff, boards and leadership, and see if we can honestly say those teams reflect the backgrounds of residents.

Last year the NHF, in partnership with the Housing Diversity Network, released its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Insight Report with the aim of doing just that. It is a challenging read in places, but that is exactly what it was design to be to help spur on action. And as we said when the report was released, that was just the beginning of the NHF’s work in this area.

Later this month we will be releasing a data tool which will allow housing associations in England to compare how diverse their workforce is to the communities they serve, based on characteristics of local populations. This data will be an essential key to unlocking the vital knowledge the sector needs for tackling inequalities.

And we are about to set up a new national group of board-level members to consider the role of housing association boards in confronting racial discrimination, improving representation and promoting racial equality. As Lord Woolley CBE said “Leadership is key” and unless we’re “honest and brave to lay bare the uncomfortable truths and then have an action plan we could be having this conversation in 10 years or 20 years’ time.”

There are so many housing association leaders committed to this cause and the NHF and our Board stands with you. The conversation, and most importantly, the experiences of our BAME staff and residents must change, and our sector can be at the heart of that transformation.

Find out more about our diversity work.