Creating a baseline for equality, diversity and inclusion

Sonja Wellings, 14 April 2021

Last year, the Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP), a partnership of Housing Providers who operate across the city region, published the DICE report – the result of research carried out by Irwell Valley Homes on behalf of the GMHP Diversity, Inclusion, Community Cohesion and Equalities (DICE) Group.  

As Research Manager for Irwell Valley Homes, I was given the opportunity to carry out the research on behalf of the partnership. Our aim was to establish a picture of the various approaches being taken by the 23 participating organisations in meeting their equality and diversity commitments, and the challenges they faced in doing so.   

The study also involved gathering baseline equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data to understand the current situation in relation to diversity data and monitoring within and between organisations.  

The methodology consisted of three data collection streams: 

  1. An online survey containing a series of quantitative and qualitative questions to establish a picture of the various strategies and initiatives being taken within each of the organisations. 
  2. The collection of case studies to highlight examples of best practice.  
  3. A benchmarking exercise using EDI data to understand the make-up of customers and three employee cohorts board, leadership team and wider workforce. 

The 23 housing providers who took partwhich range in size and scale from a small specialist BAME provider to large national associations, generously shared their information and through collaboration it has been possible to understand the differences and similarities in approaches to understand what works well and where more needs to be doneImportantly, the study provides an evidence base to shape and inform the work of participating organisations going forward.    

The benchmarking exercise involved marking each of the participating organisations against each other and against the profile of the region as a whole.  For me, this was a really key part of the study.  The monitoring of equality and diversity metrics is a crucial first step to understanding whether EDI strategies and policies are effectiveIt also provides the baseline needed to work from, providing a starting point to help members in planning and developing their own work towards breaking down barriers and creating more inclusive workplaces and equitable housing services.   

We found a lot of good will from housing providers. Most participating organisations have strategies in place to tackle inequalities, some have action plans and many use accreditation frameworks to improve. Some also take positive action where employees, applicants or board members who share a protected characteristic experience disadvantage, or where participation is disproportionately low. 

We uncovered some fantastic examples of best practice, in relation to increasing board and leadership diversity and listening to and acting on the diverse voices of colleagues and customers. And perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the research was the honesty and willingness of the partners to share their data, action and approaches openly, with everyone named in the report alongside their data. 

However, the research clearly shows that diversity is a continuing challenge, particularly at board and senior team level where black, minority ethnic and disabled people are still under-represented when compared to the characteristics of the wider workforce, customers and localities where the participating associations operate. 

Around half of the organisations who took part felt their board and leadership teams did not reflect the diversity of their customer base, but the diversity profile of the wider workforce was more reflective of this. The monitoring data confirmed this. However, the percentage of BAME people within the workforce still remains below the percentage within the customer base for the majority of organisations. 

We also found gaps in the data around sexual orientation. The lack of data on LGBT colleagues, board members and customers means there is no way to identify issues or measure progress. It also raises the question that a response of ‘rather not say’ may be a marker of a lack of trust in how the data will be used. 

It was worrying to uncover that where data was available and monitoring more extensive, many organisations were honest about their lack of utilisation of their data. While some felt customer insight and profiling information was well used, the overall perception was that the data could be used better. 

The DICE report is having a wide reach and for me it has highlighted the importance and merit of harmonising methods to collect and to measure EDI across the sector. In the spirit of encouraging and sharing good practice, we are freely sharing our methodology and I am encouraged to share that housing providers in other regions are now adopting it. This will give an even clearer picture of the state of the sector in relation to tackling inequalities and the challenges we must address. 

Being honest about what our data is telling us and how we are responding to issues is a great starting point for action. Now we have a baseline, we can measure the effectiveness of the actions we’re taking to improve. The DICE group are committed to repeating the research in 18 months to check that what gets measured gets done, holding ourselves and each other to account for collectively moving forward to tackle inequalities. 

To read the full report, visit our website.