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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

8 lessons we can learn from diversity champions in our sector


We're calling on housing organisations to commit to 10 challenges by 2020 - all designed to increase diversity in leadership within our sector. But if you're not sure where to begin, which top tips should you take on board?

Image of abstract building1) Don't just focus on the data

It's great to think about targets, but make sure you're not just considering equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) in terms of impersonal numbers or ticking boxes - above all, it's about people. When we asked Gentoo's Lucy Malarkey about her EDI vision for 2020, she told us: "[It] isn’t primarily about what the data looks like. It’s more about what our workplaces and communities feel like for our staff and our customers."

2) Get a passionate team together and make things happen

Want to create an effective steering group? Make sure it's full of people who are happy to get stuck in. Arawak Walton chief executive and BMENational chair Cym D'Souza speaks highly of CIH's Presidential Commission group: "What became evident from the very first meeting was that this was going to be a group dedicated to making things happen."

3) Recognise that a non-diverse organisation is an organisation that's missing out

CIH statistics from 2015 showed that just 11 per cent of CIH members and seven per cent of housing's leaders were from BME backgrounds. And if we're seeing such poor levels of BME representation in our sector's leaders, it's not just our workforce that's missing out - we are too. "We are denying ourselves access to a wealth of talent that remains unheard at junior levels," explains Cym. 

4) Remember that under-representation isn't the only thing to focus on

Making sure everyone is represented is "something the sector should address," says Gentoo's Lucy Malarkey, "but it is only one element of the journey, and alone it won’t change culture." Just as important, Lucy explains, is addressing existing prejudice and bias within our organisations and working to create an inclusive environment for everyone to be part of.

5) Train your staff

We all know that our brains can sometimes make incredibly quick judgements or assessments of people or situations without us quite realising why - this is known as 'unconscious bias'. Managers at Wulvern Housing Association took part in unconscious bias training, designed to encourage questioning of these judgements - and this is now being rolled out on a mandatory basis to everyone in the organisation.

6) Get out there and see what other people are doing

A year ago, Stonewall Housing chief executive Bob Green visited three affordable housing schemes for older LGBT people in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Los Angeles: "Evidence shows that older LGBT people are statistically more likely to live alone and are less likely to have children or extended family networks they can call on for support," he told CIH. Bob came back to the UK armed with ideas and inspiration, which he was able to take back to the office with him and implement in his own organisation.

7) Make an action plan - not a wishlist

Rohini Sharma Joshi, Trust Housing Association's EDI manager, says that while a systematic approach to EDI may not show instant results, it will develop well-informed and motivated staff. Efficiency and planning are vital, Rohini explains: "If there is one thing housing leaders must do to tackle EDI issues in 2016, it is to make sure that they are incorporated into a strategic action plan - not left languishing on a wishlist."

8) Remember: it's everyone's business

Gentoo's Lucy Malarkey once heard a story that sticks with her: "When a customer asked to speak to the organisation’s 'diversity lead officer', the receptionist responded by saying: 'We’re all responsible for diversity here, how can I help you?'" We all need to take inspiration from this receptionist, she reckons - "When each of us in the sector owns that statement, and can say it with passion and conviction, we’ll have made huge progress towards inclusion."

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