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Follow-up research shows progress of housing providers towards tackling inequalities – and where the sector must continue to improve

The second wave of pioneering research examining how the north-west housing sector is working to champion equality and diversity has highlighted where the region is making good progress – at the same time as identifying the gaps it needs to address to continue to progress with its ambitions.

The Diversity, Inclusion, Community Cohesion and Equalities (DICE) working group of Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) first commissioned the baseline survey in 2020, calling on its members to hold up a mirror to the work they were doing to tackle inequalities which could be experienced by customers and colleagues.

Now, more than two years on, the findings of the follow-up survey completed by 23 housing providers across the Greater Manchester city region have revealed where progress has been made – and where the focus needs to be moving forward to ensure ongoing improvements.

Key findings of the latest research

The most significant change towards ensuring organisations reflected the communities they serve was at board level, with 11 organisations reporting more representation of ethnic minorities on their board of management in 2022, compared to 2020.

Organisations had targeted more diverse groups using specialist recruitment agencies and via community organisations and partners, placing greater value on lived experience and community knowledge.

Mentoring and affirmative action – which was used by just under a quarter of respondents – were two of the other more common methods, use of which had grown since 2020.

Responding to the cost-of-living crisis over the course of 2022 had also led to an increased focus on socio-economic disadvantage.

The research showed progress had been made by some organisations to improve the quality of the data they hold about customers, encouraging buy-in by highlighting the benefits to customers of sharing their personal data and making surveys easier to complete through an app. Others had reviewed their processes to enable diversity data to be collected at tenancy visits.

Meanwhile, the survey found colleague data had improved in some organisations thanks to new HR systems with enhanced functionality, as well as targeted campaigns encouraging staff to disclose key information.

Areas highlighted for improvement

Whilst the picture had changed since 2020 and progress had been made or was underway, the follow-up survey found there was still further work to be done.

The report found:

  • Although ethnic representation had increased at board level, the situation was less clear around other characteristics including disabilities and age.
  • Boards and leadership teams also remained disproportionately older relative to the population and customer base, and the wider workforce continued to be poorly represented by younger age groups.
  • Collecting data and interpreting it remained an on-going challenge and some organisations reported a skills shortfall in how to harness customer data effectively within strategies, policies and services to deliver tangible results.
  • Issues identified in 2020 around the unwillingness of tenants to disclose data, a lack of digital solutions and staff capacity continued to challenge organisations in meeting their EDI ambitions in 2022.
  • Data about colleague diversity continued to focus on job applicants, with less emphasis on monitoring the diversity of leavers or those progressing within the organisation.

Other actions in pipeline

As in 2020, the latest research found many examples of good practice, including emerging projects designed to tackle inequalities in new areas.
Examples included:

  • Advertising jobs in more diverse spaces, including online groups for those with neurodiversity.
  • Introducing staff discussion groups to improve learning and understanding of issues around mental health, wellbeing and the menopause.
  • Using data more effectively to identify and provide proactive and tailored support to those in rent arrears or at risk of rent arrears, against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis.

Recommendations on how to move forward.

The report had several recommendations for the housing associations who had taken part and the DICE working group. They included:

Introducing more robust and in-depth measurement and evaluation of initiatives to find out if they are having the intended impact. Looking beyond simple headcounts could help organisations to understand what is working – and what is not.

Where organisations have well-developed reporting systems and good knowledge of how to interpret data to influence services, they should be encouraged to share good practice with others who are less confident. Improving data literacy will help ensure EDI interventions and monitoring goes beyond headline figures and really understands the issues at play.

Standardisation of data – flagged as an issue both in 2020 and 2022 – would help to facilitate more reliable benchmarking between organisations, particularly around how they define and report on sex and gender. Aligning data to terms used by the Office for National Statistics could be one approach, and an area where the DICE working group could play a central role.

Sasha Deepwell, Chief Executive of Irwell Valley Homes and chair of the DICE working group, said: “The second DICE survey has revealed a wealth of valuable work going on across the north-west to promote equality, diversity and inclusion by attracting and nurturing more diverse talent and ensuring the experiences of the customers we serve are represented at all levels.

“Two years ago we set out to measure a starting point from which to develop and it is encouraging to see the progress made on this journey – with increased visibility for ethnic minorities at board level; more targeted efforts to collect accurate and meaningful customer data; increased investment in how to use this data for maximum impact and much more – including an important focus on mitigating the effects of the cost-of-living crisis which have a disproportionate impact on the people GMHP serves.

“However, it’s also clear there is more work to be done to ensure the diverse communities of Greater Manchester are represented and engaged with effectively across our membership. We are committed to building on what we’ve achieved so far – delivering lasting change and developing the tools we need to measure where we are making an impact, and what still needs to be addressed.

“We’re extremely proud that the initial research, carried out by Irwell Valley Homes, inspired several other studies of its kind. It also helped formulate the National Housing Federation’s EDI data tool, which allows organisations to compare their workforce to the communities they serve and measure the impact of their actions to improve. All of this is coming together to make a tangible contribution towards tackling inequalities in Greater Manchester, and beyond.”

We are committed to building on what we’ve achieved so far – delivering lasting change and developing the tools we need to measure where we are making an impact, and what still needs to be addressed.