A 2019 update on Diversity in the Sector: what progress has been made?

In 2017, the Leadership 2025 CEO and executive ready business school accredited programme, aimed at senior BME senior professionals was launched. The Leadership 2025 Steering Group were also concerned that unless the approach to supporting, growing and appointing diverse talent changed within the sector, then the lack of leadership diversity would remain. An Inside Housing survey in that year, identified that there were only 3 BME chief executives (out of 64 associations to respond) and only 4.5% of all executives came from a diverse background.

Altair, the housing and regeneration consultancy were commissioned to undertake a review of the sector and to make practical, ambitious but achievable recommendations for change. The Altair review published in 2017 produced a Five Point Plan of action, and with the support of the GLA engaged with the sector on its implementation.

Two years on, we wanted to assess sector progress. We commissioned Altair to update their report, and Inside Housing also re-ran its sector survey on leadership diversity.

The results paint a mixed picture. There are some organisations who have genuinely committed to sourcing diverse talent and ensuring their boards and executives are representative of ‘the communities they serve’. There are others who have played lip service to the diversity challenge. And others still, who appear to have ignored it altogether.

The updated report seeks to highlight where there is good and progressive practice within and beyond the sector. And once again the review provides practical and achievable recommendations, based on what has been found to work both within and outside of the sector. In London, the GLA’s support in pushing the agenda has been invaluable. However, the challenge is a national one and all leaders in the sector should ask what more they can do, before they are instructed or compelled to do so.

Speaking at the launch of the year programme, Gina Amoh, Chair of the Leadership2025 Steering Group said:

‘Our conclusions, now, as they were in 2017, are that there can be no excuses for not making demonstrable progress on the issue of leadership diversity. The best organisations are already delivering or have real plans to deliver. Others should ask themselves why they have not made equal progress. There is much to learn from these organisations. The sector should follow their lead.’

Also speaking at the launch, Steve Douglas CBE, Group Chief Executive of Aquila, Altair’s parent company said:

‘As a sector there has been improvement in the diversity of leadership amongst social housing providers. However, Inside Housing’s headline figures should be treated with caution. The survey has been completed by a self-selected group of respondents and it is likely that those who have a positive story to tell are the ones to have completed the survey.

The results also mask a significant difference in performance between the sector overall, and those respondents with over 10,000 homes where the picture of improvement is much less positive, with 9.6% board representation and only 5.6% representation amongst executives.

Our own updated research among the largest 50 housing associations in England shows that only 7% of board members and 5% of executives are BME. This suggests little improvement in our largest organisations. There is still more work to be done.’

Leadership 2025 – Sector update 2019 – Conclusions and recommendations

The updated report ‘Diversity in the Sector – 2019’ made the following conclusions and recommendations:

Inspired change – a mixed picture

The results of the Inside Housing survey and updated review research suggests that the apparent positive results may be driven by a widening gap between those housing associations making considerable efforts to promote leadership diversity and those who have not.

Getting it right

To continue to make positive steps across the sector, more organisations should adopt the principles or spirit of the plan and must continue to review, reflect and respond to progress made to date, constantly learning from the best in the sector and other sectors.

Key messages to supplement the Five Point Plan were:

  1. Make data collection, aspiration setting and reporting meaningful
  2. Don’t tick boxes. The objective should be an intrinsic part of the culture of an organisation
  3. Diversity should be a leadership wide mandate. Not just the responsibility of the CEO or HR Director
  4. Use targeted Talent Development Programmes
  5. Include Diversity Standards in formal governance and regulation

A positive outlook

The Altair Review concluded in 2017 that effective change will depend on acknowledging that there is a problem. It also said that cultural change must be facilitated, especially taking action to tackle unconscious bias. Cultural change does not happen overnight and making a conscious effort to reflect and respond to progress made will help drive continued improvement.

The sector should acknowledge its progress, but also there is work still to be done.

We still believe that with ownership of the agenda by current sector leaders, together with continued and wider implementation of the Five Point Plan, or similar, a positive lasting legacy can be created.

The responsibility also sits with a number of sector-wide bodies, such as the National Housing Federation, Chartered Institute of Housing and the Social Housing Regulator, whose support and encouragement can add significant weight to the delivery of the recommendations and aspirations in the Altair Review (2017), following the lead shown by the GLA.

These agencies should equally own the agenda for change and show demonstrable leadership on the diversity challenge.

To find out more about the Leadership 2025 initiative, or how to be part of the leadership index of champions for diversity, further details can be found at www.leadership2025.co.uk