Savills and Leadership 2025

Savills and Leadership 2025

Diversity of Leadership in the Housing Sector

On Tuesday 23rd January, Savills hosted a dinner and discussion with trustees and alumni from Leadership 2025 along with other key stakeholders from the housing sector. The event was well attended by research and EDI experts, directors and CEOs from Altair, Devonshires, Saxton Bampfylde, Odgers, The Regulator of Social Housing and Trowers and Hamlins as well as from housing associations including The Guinness Partnership, Abri Group and more.  

The purpose of the event was to discuss the clear and damaging lack of ethnic diversity of leadership across the housing sector, examining both the current picture and what needs to be done to affect meaningful and much needed change.  We hope it is the first of many such conversations and collaborations. We appreciate the support and allyship of Savills and those who are open to hosting or attending such conversations and working together to find ways forward.  

Key points from the speakers and conversation are outlined below.

The scope and scale of the problem 

The housing sector is far from being ethnically diverse, inclusive and representative at leadership level. It was highlighted that the sector is not alone in this way and that ethnic minority groups continue to see outcomes which are consistently and disproportionately poor. This is mirrored in contexts such as social justice, school exclusions, maternal health and many more. We know that society discriminates against these communities and individuals and that this societal and structural inequality must be addressed.  

Experiences and barriers faced by ethnic minority leaders and colleagues in the housing sector

A range of experiences and barriers were raised and shared. These included:  

  • A glass ceiling or moreover, an “impregnable concrete ceiling” for ethnic minorities.
  • Ethnic minority candidates are inexplicably turned down for roles, accused of aggression and passed over for less qualified peers. This was experienced both as candidates and on hiring panels.
  • Colleagues from ethnic minorities feel vulnerable and alone in challenging these decisions. 
  • Ethnic minority colleagues get lower bonuses or benefits than their white peers.  
  • Diverse people lack networks and require a new “language” for senior positions.  
  • Ethnic minority colleagues have left organisations or indeed, the sector due to these challenges and a lack of an inclusive and equitable culture. There is a feeling that the housing sector does not deserve them. 
  • Ethnic minority talent needs more training, validation and references to get the same positions as their white counterparts and are typically overqualified for them. Likewise, professionals from ethnic minority backgrounds must work harder than their white peers.  
  • There are limited role models and there is a real need for mentorship and allyship.  
  • A Built Environment Survey representing 0.5 million employees demonstrated that ethnic minority professionals need to submit 90 job applications compared to 28 for white professionals.  These numbers varied depending on ethnicity – e.g., it is even higher for Indian professionals.   
  • The issue is nationwide though particularly shocking in areas that are diverse. There is no good reason a London-based Registered Provider should have low levels of senior ethnic diversity in 2024.  
  • There is a clear sense that the sector has gone backwards. There used to be a better understanding of diversity data and better insight into communities. 
  • Many people are sceptical about the ability of the sector to change.  

Barriers to progress faced by CEOs and Boards

The question of how to maintain focus and momentum in this important area was raised. CEOs may have “priority fatigue” and there may be a reluctance to de-prioritise certain issues, particularly within the EDI space, to give each the focus it requires and deserves. It may be that some leaders have disengaged from this important work as there is simply so much to do.  

CEOs who are keen on discussing issues of race often feel lonely in the discussion. Fatigue may also arise from a place of discomfort and work needs to be done around the cultural competence of recruiting bodies and organisations. An area of debate was whether this is a matter for Learning and Development or if in 2024, we should have moved past the need for this and cultural competence should be a baseline expectation. 

Barriers and difficulties included:  

  • The sector is under stress and in this climate, people recruit who they know. There are similar types of people in senior positions across the sector and a set pool of candidates from which many hiring managers continue to recruit. 
  • Ethnic minority candidates cannot always trust recruiters’ intentions.  Some recruiters do not know where to look for talent and/or are not looking hard enough.  
  • Many recruiters and hiring managers don’t naturally think of people from ethnic minority backgrounds when considering senior positions. This requires a fundamental shift in culture and perception.  
  • Many ethnic minority candidates do not feel welcome and would not choose to work for organisations which do not feel authentic and inclusive. 

Savills’ Residential Research: Who lives in Social Housing

Research from Savills explored who was living in social housing across the country and illuminated some key patterns and trends. This included findings that social housing has better thermal efficiency than other tenures, with 70% of stock having an EPC rating of C or above. The research also showed that social housing is more likely to be located in areas with high levels of deprivation. There are high numbers of ethnic minority people living in London and other urban areas. Furthermore, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to live in social housing, in flats and in overcrowded accommodation. 

Considering Data 

Teams need to have understanding and trust in what their diversity data will be used for in order to feel comfortable sharing it. There is a lack of public data to thoroughly examine and research often reports data gaps. Registered Providers may have more data to enable an examination of the conditions of housing and who lives in it. This could then be used to tailor services. It is important not to just collect information and explain it away but instead, to try and understand the reasons behind differential data. An example of this would be considering the reasons behind different satisfaction levels amongst ethnic minority staff and residents.  

EDI Practice at Savills  

Savills continually develop and improve their EDI practices and the experiences of all staff. They offer cultural education and provide learning in a variety of formats. The Savills board is also committed to mutual mentoring. Data collection is key and in most categories, Savills currently has a 100% response rate. Having worked on entry-level diversity, they are now focusing on pay gap levels, retention levels and on senior representation. There is a belief that organisations need to challenge their EDI processes and to bake in a culture of representation to better serve the needs of customers. It was noted that there remains a long way to go and that there is no one size fits all when it comes to improving EDI practices.  

Suggested strategies, actions and improvements  

Commitment is needed from senior teams to improve representation and diversity.

Suggestions and ideas included:  

  • Recruitment firms need the commitment of Registered Providers to get diverse shortlists.  
  • In terms of acquiring the “language of leadership”, some colleagues felt mentorship was critical while others felt it was the responsibility of boards to become more equitable and accessible. 
  • It is important that RPs do not forget that they are not choosing ethnic minority candidates but rather, candidates are choosing them.  
  • Diversity should not be treated as a side issue but as part of an organisation’s DNA and an inherent part of all activities.   
  • Boards need to consider the real, lived experiences of ethnic minority people. There was some discussion about if sharing this lived experience would have an impact or not. Leadership 2025 are considering how to harness these important and provocative stories in a way that will galvanize the sector and boards.   
  • Safe spaces for professionals from ethnic minority backgrounds to share their experiences could be of benefit. 
  • Ensuring the Cultural Competence of hiring panels and organisations is critical. Some leaders may need upskilling in inclusive practices and recruitment.  
  • Firms need to meaningfully consider succession planning and talent management. 
  • RPs should consider diversity in relation to the consumer standards. It is key to consider solutions to improve in key areas such as customer satisfaction and what evidence boards need to gain assurance. The responsibility for improved satisfaction needs to be owned by senior teams and RPs need to ensure all tenants are receiving good landlord services and living in safe homes of good quality.  
  • The role of “carrot and stick” was explored, including the use of quotas and hard targets to improve representation and accountability.  
  • There is role for the investment community in driving representation, though there was some question as to whether this would drive sincerity or just tick-boxing.   
  • Mergers can drive change where one RP has a greater level of focus on diversity. 
  • Odgers Berndtson’s Inclusive Recruitment Diagnostic Tool is a useful resource.  
  • There is a need to consider the messaging around development programmes. Ethnic minority people do not need fixing but rather, the culture of organisations needs to change. This is very much the ethos and approach of Leadership 2025. Such programmes must also tie in with senior management, another key focus for future iterations of the Leadership 2025 programme. 

Pledges/actions: 

Many of the group shared next steps and pledges. These are included below:  

  • To continue to hold similar events and discussions throughout the year across the country with support from allies like Savills, Devonshires, Trowers and Hamlins and more.  Also, to reconvene in a year’s time and reflect on progress.  
  • To further engage with Leadership 2025 dinners in the Midlands and the North. 
  • For the group to disseminate findings and ethos to their peer group and ensure that race is on the agenda. 
  • To use 2025 as a date to look back and take stock on where objectives have been met and how much further there is to go, i.e. the use of data to reinvigorate initiative in the sector. 
  • To commission a research study to capture the experiences of alumni of the Leadership 2025 programme, which will then be disseminated to boards and the sector. To harness the real stories of real people to affect change.

Conclusion

A sincere thank you to our hosts, alumni, supporters and all attendees at what we hope will be the first of many similar events and conversations. Through collaboration, conversation and exploration around the barriers and possible solutions, we hope to drive meaningful progress in this important area. We invite other professionals, organisations, boards and CEOs to speak with us and to collaborate on delivering this critical change.