Not just because it’s right, but because it’s necessary to be better

Nick Yandle, 28 January 2022

Why now

The past two years have been quite a journey when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The brutal murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and subsequent global protests, have brought longstanding and complex questions regarding racial politics, history and justice to the fore. These are not new questions, and many have been making the case for change for decades – if not longer – but they were suddenly centre stage, and importantly, increasingly a priority for those with the power and influence to support credible change.

For housing associations this has meant a renewed focus on EDI at all levels, including the publication of the NHF Code of Governance 2020 which requires boards to take an active lead on this agenda. Then in the summer of 2021, the NHF invited board members from across the sector to join a new national group to review how EDI can be improved at board level. Given the external context, and the evidence of what works in improving EDI in a sustainable way, the decision was taken to focus on race in the first instance.

The case for change

I applied to join the NHF's board EDI group because I have spent my life interacting with institutions that do not reflect, or often seem to value, my heritage or perspective. Whether this resulted in exclusion from school for hairstyles which are entirely ‘normal’ and commonplace for those with afro hair, or extremely uncomfortable conversations at work about ‘where I’m really from’, the impact was the same – a sense of otherness, separation and the underlying suggestion that we don’t really belong here.

While these are individual, and some might suggest isolated, examples, I would argue they are endemic in our society and institutions. And rather than simply being uncomfortable or offensive for the individuals involved, when considered in aggregate, they are evidence of organisations that do not understand or value diversity, and are therefore incapable of making decisions or delivering services that truly reflect the needs and priorities of their diverse stakeholders.

Our sector has a proud history of anti-racism and a thriving community of organisations dedicated to providing housing and services to Black and Minority Ethnic residents. But we are also part of broader society, and face similar challenges around representation, inclusion and racial harassment and discrimination. The business and moral case is clear – organisations with EDI at their heart make better decisions and deliver better outcomes. In our sector that is essential, because decent housing is a human right and the foundation for thriving communities.   

Where have we got to

The NHF commissioned innovation consultants to work with us, and they are helping the group to gain a deep understanding of the problems facing the sector. We will then identify opportunities for change and create tangible solutions.

We’ve chosen three problems to focus on:

  1. There is no inspirational EDI vision for the sector, and no definition of what good looks like. This problem provides us with the opportunity to create a vision for the sector that challenges board chairs to work with their boards to create their own roadmaps to success in terms of EDI, focusing on race in first instance and using baseline EDI data.
  2. The ‘Experience Excuse’ – boards are either using experience as an excuse, or over-weighting experience, to appoint in their profile or image. This problem provides us with the opportunity to encourage boards to recognise the value of diversity of thought, background and experience; for them to see it as critical to their success.
  3. The unwavering traditional structure and culture of housing association boards is unappealing and inaccessible to candidates of diverse ethnicities and from diverse backgrounds. This problem provides us with the opportunity to encourage board members to actively seek diversity, and ensuring diverse candidates find housing association boards an attractive career option.

What next

We’re focusing on developing solutions that will be deliverable and effective. It is imperative that we engage thoroughly to benefit from the diversity of experience and expertise across the sector. We are trying to gather as many insights as possible around the problems, to help us develop successful ideas in response to the chosen problem areas.  We’d like to hear your insights – from what you’ve read, heard, listened to or seen.

An insight can be qualitative or quantitative. For example, a quote from a conversation you’ve had or one you’ve seen take place at an event, a sentence from an article you’ve read, or a statistic from a research paper. If you’re reading a longer article, you can extract two or three quotes that stand out.  The insights need to be brief and we must cite our sources. We want to be expansive and base our ideas on actual insight from people who know about or have experience of these problems. Please email us with your insights

We have an opportunity to grasp this moment and change the sector for the better. I hope you will work with us to do so.