Boards must act now and walk the talk on diversity and inclusion

Maureen Hopcroft, 12 October 2020

The nexus of coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd has created a step change in our national awareness of the challenges BAME communities face. Good housing is the lynchpin to better life chances for BAME communities, and our sector has a vital role to play.

The pandemic has reinforced that poor health and economic outcomes are inextricably linked with inadequate housing, and that this has a disproportionate impact on our BAME communities. According to the Race Equality Foundation structural racism has seen BAME communities left behind, with four in 10 black African and Bangladeshi households likely to experience housing deprivation, compared to one in 10 white British households.

Our boards should be reflecting on how better to meet this housing need. We need to know that the people we house and those who work in our organisations fairly represent the communities we serve, and that our organisations in turn treat all fairly. This includes ethnic minorities who are our residents, those in the wider community, and our staff. As the McGregor Smith Review has found, ‘It is simply not right that BME representation in some organisations is clustered in the lowest paid positions.’

Improving diversity must start with the board – BAME lived experience should be included at the board table to begin to address inequalities that have existed for too long. Boards should talk about race and be prepared to have difficult conversations. Leadership  needs to listen more closely BAME staff who, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, may feel empowered to open up and share their personal experiences in the hope for change.

Boards should have strategic oversight of diversity across our organisations and set aspirational targets for underrepresented groups to improve diversity. BAME talent needs to be nurtured, supported and given opportunity. We need to be more attuned to understanding, fostering and monitoring a more inclusive organisational culture – the McGregor Smith Review contains much excellent guidance.

In recognition of the need for change, the G15’s BAME diversity pledge – which includes a commitment to increasing BAME representation across their boards to 30% by 2025 – is a positive step in the right direction. It’s encouraging to see initiatives like this being developed and put into practice, and it would be great to see more of these and for the commitments to go further in future.

The moral case is indisputable, but boards should also recognise the business case. This writes itself, as evidenced in McKinsey’s Delivering through Diversity and the sector focused Altair review. The latter, in summarising the business benefits of ethnically diverse leadership states ‘organisations that do not focus on making these gains do not just risk being left behind, they already are being left behind’. Boards can begin their journey by undertaking a governance review to identify diversity gaps and position organisations for change. This is particularly timely as we await the revised NHF Code of Governance 2020 with greater emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion and a focus on organisational culture.

Boards cannot stand still. We must act now and walk the talk on diversity and inclusion. We have a responsibility to leverage the current mood to drive change for our BAME communities – positive disruption is required to shape lasting change across our sector.