Inspiring diversity champions in our sector
We caught up with Tim Seward, who was formally recognised at the Excellence in Diversity Awards last month.
Hi Tim! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role?
I’m the head of property sales at Circle Housing – one of the largest housing groups in the UK. I’m responsible for all our private sales, shared ownership sales and asset sales. I work in a commercial environment, but all our profits are used to support the group’s social objectives, to enhance the life chances of our customers and people living in the communities that we work within.
I’m also the senior sponsor of the group’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) network and on a personal level I’m a carer for homeless LGBT teenagers through a charity called the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT).
You recently won the Excellence in Diversity Awards’ ‘diversity champion award for housing’ – can you tell us more about this?
I was honoured to have our wellbeing and diversity manager Alex Alexander nominate me for the award, and it was a big surprise to win! The award was for a mix of things that I do at work and in my private life.
As a carer for AKT, along with my partner, we have homeless teenagers living with us. We’ve done this for around 15 years and we’re on our 10th placement. Placements usually last between one and two years and as well as giving the young person a safe place to live we help them get into education, training or employment and teach them life skills such as learning to shop, budget, cook and get them on the path to being able to live independently.
It’s full of challenges, as we’re often dealing with abandonment issues where their families have disowned them due to their sexuality. It can also be lots of fun and a privilege to be part of their lives at a time when they’re entering adulthood and coming to terms with all the ups and downs that entails. There’s never a dull moment – that’s for sure!
Our current placement is supporting a young male to female transgendered teenager. She’s been living with us since September and has made a huge amount of progress in terms of building her confidence, getting into employment and starting her transitioning to live full time as a female. We’re working towards her going to university in September and we’re very proud of her.
I helped to connect the Albert Kennedy Trust with Circle Housing and that has resulted in us letting one of our larger properties in London to AKT for their 'Purple Door' project. Purple Door is a safe house for homeless LGBT teenagers, designed to get them off the streets for an interim period whilst the Trust can help them with longer term solutions to their needs, both in terms of housing and general wellbeing and mentoring. I was also instrumental in the initial meetings for another initiative which has since paved the way to us setting up a recovery housing project to support those with drug and alcohol issues who are trying to improve their lives
CIH’s Presidential Commission is calling on organisations to commit to more diverse leadership in our sector – as our former President Steve Stride said, "While our workforce is diverse, this is not reflected in our leadership which remains too white, too old and too male. Just look at me." Why do you think housing’s leadership represents such a small fragment of our workforce?
Unfortunately I think that statement applies to many sectors so I don’t think housing is alone in that regard. Thinking about Circle Housing, I know that our board and executive team are fully committed to driving change. Our network groups were set up to support diversity at all levels and to review our policies to attract and retain talent from the richness of the communities that we work within. Our senior sponsors advocate and support diversity and inclusion and we offer mentoring and career progression initiatives.
I’m sure like other employers in the sector it’s a work in progress, but I do see positive change and it is an issue that Circle Housing feels strongly about. I believe housing can show itself to be a progressive sector with great opportunities.
Fast forward to 2020 – what do you want to see in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)? How can we achieve this?
The ideal scenario would see EDI removed from the agenda as a non-issue – I’m an optimist and I do see improvements, but being realistic we’re not going to get there by 2020 unfortunately, and more work is needed. I believe we all have to take personal responsibility to drive change and make an impact, however small, in our own lives which hopefully then touches, influences and supports others around us and starts to build incrementally across our work lives and throughout the communities that we live within.
We have a fantastic initiative at Circle Housing called 'Freedom to be you' and you’ll often see staff wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan or posters across our offices or stalls and stands at events sharing this message.
There is huge commercial and social value in letting people be themselves at work and I think if we keep sharing those messages we will see change.