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

Diversity in leadership: why sign up to the challenge?


Paul Roberts, chief executive of Newydd Housing Association, explains why committing to CIH’s Presidential Commission on leadership and diversity was a vital move for his organisation.

Image of building with jigsaw painted onto it“If we are all the same then we will all think the same and if we all think the same we will always do the same things – some of those things will be the right things and some will be the wrong things – the danger is that we will carry on regardless.”

This was part of my presentation at the launch of the Chartered Institute of Housing’s diversity in leadership challenge in Wales last month. I strongly believe that organisations benefit from a diverse leadership team. Lack of diversity can lead to ‘group think’ which can lead to complacency. Encouraging a diverse range of contributions keeps organisations interesting, creative and self-aware. So how can we ensure that our leadership teams are diverse?

Getting the systems and processes right is important and at Newydd we have worked hard on this. We have gold Investor in People status and were recently listed in the top ten of small and medium sized organisations in the UK for our family-friendly approach. Half of our leadership team are women and we are in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies list. We have a flexible approach to work, including the option for flexible or compressed hours and term time working. We show a respectful understanding and willingness to accommodate cultural and religious practices. We have taken on several younger people through placement schemes and internships and have been delighted to retain some of them by providing permanent jobs.

However, processes are only the starting point – what really matters is culture. We need to compete to attract the best talent and if they don’t like what they experience then the best people, whatever their background, will leave or not come in the first place. If you work for Newydd you will be joining a team that is fun, committed, enthusiastic and respectful of different points of view. We work hard on this: we challenge our own behaviours, we encourage open discussion and constantly remind our team leaders what we expect. We often have discussions about positive engagement, our values and ethical practices. This stuff is important and defines what we are.

When we learned about the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Presidential Commission on leadership and diversity we were keen to sign up to the 10 by 20 challenges. Our boards are not all as diverse as they could be or need to be. Adopting the 10 by 20 challenges has offered us several advantages:

  • It is voluntary and the result of a positive decision by my board rather than imposed.
  • The timescale is not unrealistic; 2020 gives us time to align increasing diversity with improving governance and performance and ensures that the commitment continues as board members change.
  • It is a public commitment and we will report on progress at our annual general meeting starting in September this year – this makes us accountable and I personally don’t relish the thought of standing up each year and reporting no progress.

If your organisation is committed to increasing or retaining the diversity of its leadership and wants to make a public commitment then please have a look at the 10 by 20 challenges and sign up to be accountable for your progress over the next five years.

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