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

'We recognise the unique contribution each person can make when they feel supported and empowered to be themselves'

25/02/2016


We're calling on housing organisations to commit to 10 challenges by 2020 - all designed to increase diversity in leadership within our sector. Earlier this year, Gentoo was recognised as a 'star performer' in Stonewall's top 100 for its existing work towards equality, diversity and inclusion - we caught up with deputy director of Gentoo operations, Lucy Malarkey.

Image of people holding handsHi Lucy! So, tell us about Gentoo - where are you based and what do you do?

We are one of the biggest employers and landlords based in Sunderland. We manage more than 28,000 homes and have more than 70,000 customers. Inspiring people and building strong communities is at the heart of everything we do.

Stonewall recently released its 'top 100 employers' list and you guys have been named a ‘star performer’. Congrats! For those who aren’t in the know, what does this mean?

'Star performer' is a category that Stonewall introduced last year - it's for employers who have consistently demonstrated commitment and success in creating a workplace where lesbian, gay and bisexual staff can bring their whole selves to work.

The organisations that ranked in the top 10 of Stonewall's workplace equality index (WEI) top 100 for at least three of the previous five years get to graduate as star performers. It’s an elite group, with only nine organisations nationally being awarded this status. Gentoo is the only housing provider in this group, and one of only two star performers based outside of London. We’ve always been happy to share our learning, but as a star performer we've made a specific commitment to share our expertise with North East Ambulance Service to support them to further progress LGBT inclusivity for their staff. 

Why is equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) so important to Gentoo as an organisation?

We value people as individuals and recognise the unique contribution each person can make when they feel supported and empowered to be themselves. It’s not possible to sustain satisfaction, loyalty and performance other than in an environment where the experience of being valued feels real for everyone, regardless of who you are or how you identify yourself. With the challenges facing the sector, and the need to do more with less, it’s more important than ever that we empower people to be the very best they can be. An ongoing, authentic commitment to EDI is a key part of achieving that. 

A particular focus for you has been on same sex domestic abuse. Can you tell us more about this?

Tackling domestic abuse is already something that we’re passionate about. Last year we partnered with two other organisations to launch the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), which aims to improve the sector’s response by establishing a set of national domestic abuse service standards. Our focus on domestic abuse in same sex relationships recognises that it can be more difficult and less likely for victims in same sex or trans relationships to report and seek support. Some have less access to support from family or friends, and may fear being outed, or anticipate facing prejudice.

So with some targeted consultation and support from key stakeholders and members of the LGBT community, and in collaboration with the regional Police and Crime Commissioner, we facilitated training for the regional network of domestic and sexual abuse champions. Those individuals now have more awareness and sensitivity to these issues. We also go further at Gentoo, by offering our customers the option to speak to a member of staff who has personal experience, or knowledge and understanding of LGBT issues. We hope this may encourage reporting.

Our Presidential Commission calls on housing organisations to take on ’10 by 20’ challenges and contribute to improving the diversity of our sector’s leaders. Fast forward to 2020 and imagine we’re there right now – what does Gentoo want to see in terms of equality and diversity?

Perhaps controversially, my vision for 2020 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. The Presidential Commission is right that under-representation is something the sector should address – but it is only one element of the journey, and alone it won’t change culture.   I wonder if, in part, we focus on it because it’s an easier option: easier to measure, and much easier than challenging and addressing existing prejudice and bias.

What I’d like to see is a sector where the story that we heard recently about a telephone receptionist, is the norm. 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?” 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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