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Ground-breaking partnership will help tackle housing’s ‘diversity challenge’

Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees in the housing sector will benefit from improved routes to senior roles thanks to a unique new partnership between GMHP and Manchester Metropolitan University which aims to address the underrepresentation of BAME employees in leadership positions.

The ‘Championing Change for BAME Leadership’ programme is now recommending solutions to diversify the housing sector’s leadership by recognising and addressing unfair barriers to leadership, as well as developing up-and-coming BAME colleagues.

In 2018, an Inside Housing survey revealed that nearly three-quarters of UK housing associations had an executive team that was completely white, and two were led entirely by white male executives.

In their report, researchers have outlined eleven recommendations to be taken forward by GMHP members; some of which are already being embedded because of the programme.

Through these recommendations, researchers have helped to create a change, where barriers to leadership are highlighted through mentoring relationships and tackled by dedicated ‘Change Champions’ and senior leadership.

Creating a culture of encouragement

At the same time, GMHP members have committed to keep prioritising this change by publishing and monitoring their ethnicity pay gaps and creating a culture that encourages BAME leaders and progression.

Over the past 19 months housing association directors have been paired with BAME staff in reciprocal mentoring relationships, which were supported by nominated ‘Change Champions’ across GMHP. This enabled staff at all levels to talk about race in the workplace and to come together in a commitment to tackle unfair barriers to leadership.

The mentorships were guided by a unique ‘Enquiry Tool’, designed by researchers from MMU, which summarises some of the factors causing the underrepresentation of BAME staff in leadership roles and poses ‘enquiring questions’ to help the mentors and mentees reflect on their own experiences and plan change. Since October 2019, each partnership has met monthly to share experiences and discuss the actions needed to improve the routes to leadership for BAME employees in the sector.

Genuine passion for change

Devon Poyser, Equality and Inclusion Business Partner at Southway Housing Trust and one of the project’s Change Champions said:

“My previous experience of BAME leadership programmes is that they are well-intentioned, but the enthusiasm diminishes and actions get put on the back burner. However, this GMHP programme feels different. I have waited for 30 years to hear white executive colleagues speak so frankly about the lack of BAME leaders in senior roles in housing and show a genuine passion for change to create lasting diversity at the top level of housing organisations in Greater Manchester and beyond.”

GMHP is now looking at ways to share the recommendations from the programme across the sector, while exploring further partnerships with MMU to develop and sustain lasting change for BAME employees and leadership teams. Each housing provider has supported the development of the programme and committed to a future organisational change programme, facilitated through further reciprocal mentoring beginning in 2022.

Systemic issues need addressing

The project has been led by GMHP members Arawak Walton and Southway Housing Trust.

Cym D’Souza, Chief Executive at Arawak Walton said:

“Most housing providers work in very diverse communities, and it’s important that we better reflect that diversity in our senior teams. Workforce demographics across GMHP show that diversity is a real challenge, most acutely among board and leadership teams, and a lot of that challenge stems from a cultural issue within the sector in terms of how people move through the system and get jobs and promotions.”

Karen Mitchell, Chief Executive at Southway added:

“We’ve not been afraid to shine a light on these issues and barriers, and GMHP has worked collaboratively to find lasting solutions to ensure a more level playing field for anyone who wants to progress their career in the housing sector. Our recommendations are not only being embedded across GMHP, but others in the sector are also taking them on board, and we hope our work can be a catalyst for lasting change, both in Greater Manchester and beyond.”

Dr Helen Woolnough, Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University, said:

“It is a fact that BAME employees are underrepresented in leadership roles in the UK. Our research tells us that organisational processes obstruct the progression and retention of BAME employees in leadership roles. Through our partnership with GMHP we hope that housing providers will become pioneering organisations in developing sustainable movements for change so that creating better routes for BAME leadership is a priority that continues to matter and where we can see meaningful progress.”

Workforce demographics across GMHP show that diversity is a real challenge, most acutely among board and leadership teams, and a lot of that challenge stems from a cultural issue within the sector in terms of how people move through the system and get jobs and promotions.