Shining a spotlight on BAME

Opportunity to ask questions directly to the CEO's

OOn October 31st 2019, UNIFY hosted a crucial joint event “Shining a spotlight on BAME”. The CEO’s from the largest housing associations (Clarion, Peabody, L&Q, Metropolitan Thames Valley and Notting Hill Genesis” were invited to sit down together and have an open discussion about BAME staff. In particular, the conversation focused on representation within the hierarchy of our respective organisations and the barriers that prevented staff from progressing.

UNIFY Members and CEO's

To facilitate the event we invited the CEO from Gateway Housing, Kate Dodsworth to lead the discussion and have a neutral perspective.  Kate was particularly good at maintaining impartiality and digging deeper into the questions asked by the audience.

So what happened at the event?

Each CEO talked about EDI initiatives that were in place for their own organisation.

After hearing from all CEO’s (NHG sent an Executive Director) it was evident, some housing associations were more progressive than others, in particular L&Q.

L&Q have been leading the way

  1. They are the first housing association to publish their report on RACE pay gap.
  2. They have invested in a Head of Diversity and made it part of their corporate strategy instead of their HR function.
  3. Their BAME network as well as other staff networks, regularly attend executive meetings.
  4. Working with agencies that target employment of BAME professionals.
  5. Three paid days a month allocated to the chairs of the Staff Network

These are just some of the initiatives at L&Q, this is not to say the other housing association are not investing in their BAME staff.

Clarion Housing Group: First to invest in an in-house programme upskilling talent. They created an delivered a programme called Leadership Live

Peabody: Currently working with Olmec to run a programme called ‘Black on Board’.

MTVH: Were the first housing association to run Olmec’s ‘Black on Board’ training programme for staff and a select few residents. They are also finalising the implementation of the Rooney Rule combined with blind shortlisting to address barriers to recruitment and progression.

Notting Hill Genesis: Promoting more secondments to help move staff up in London where they have more diversity within their staff.

Each housing association in their own way is trying to create a change but one thing that was apparent to all CEO’s, this is a sector wide issue and more broadly a societal issue were collaborative work needs to be done.  

Here are three of our favourite questions asked by audience members using Slido.

These made interesting questions and although we won’t go into any details of the replies, what I can say is that it definitely left CEO’s with food for thought.

Interesting point during the event

During the event, there was a moment where a passionate audience member highlighted a key point that many members could relate too. 

Why is it that BAME professionals frequently find themselves in positions where their main feedback is around further upskilling themselves to get into these positions?

Some BAME individuals already have the desired skills and qualification, however when the opportunity arises they are told they lack the necessary experience. They then find themselves applying to courses such as Black on Board, Leadership 2025 in order to validate their potential. At the end the individual feels like they are in limbo – a place between having more required skills than their non-BAME counterparts to succeed in the role but also being told they are still not good enough, over qualified or they require more experience before going into the role.

On recollection, I don’t think anyone was able to provide an answer. Nevertheless, this statement definitely provided more food for thought to our CEO’s around initiatives that purport to upskilling staff but have no real tangible outcomes.

This is not to say these programme are not needed! I went back to the individual who raised this point and this is what they had to say about upskilling programmes.

Here is one powerful quote from the audience member. 

I would stress that programmes have a place in helping redress the balance and establish social justice in the social housing sector workplace, on their own however it will take decades to reach fairness as they are unable to go to the core of what is keeping the sorry state of affairs going.’

So what happens next?

Soon after the event, the G15 CEO’s met at their away day to discuss the BAME Agenda. A number of proposals have been put forward.

For UNIFY, the event was a big success. An event like this had never been done before and resulted in a welcome candid interchange, greater depth of understanding and awareness of issues facing BAME staff. There was a genuine commitment to refocus strategic efforts. This event acted as a catalyst and shortly after in April 2020 we saw the G15 come together to commit to their diversity pledge. 

Article written by

Shah Alom