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

Redefining inclusion: why actions are always louder than words

13/10/2020


COVID-19 has changed the world beyond anything we could have imagined. From not seeing family or work colleagues to exercising more and showing appreciation for the NHS, we’ve all had to rethink and redefine what’s important in our lives.

One area the pandemic has undoubtedly challenged is diversity and inclusion. Businesses have been forced to ask themselves difficult questions around how they support people to work flexibly, and how much they truly value employee wellbeing.

Away from coronavirus, but certainly with a no less significant legacy, the Black Lives Matter movement also pushed organisations to take a hard look at themselves and question whether they could be doing more around Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation.

One sector that is ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity and inclusion is housing. Several large housing associations, for example, have already implemented the Rooney Rule – a commitment to ensure there are BAME candidates on all shortlists for senior roles.

Home Group, one of the UK’s largest providers of integrated housing and care, have gone a step further and extended the Rooney Rule to include ‘head of’ level and above, with 90% of all senior roles advertised attracting BAME candidates and increased diversity on selection panels.

Nusheen Hussain joined Home Group in July 2019 as the executive director for business development. As the daughter of two hardworking immigrants, her Pakistani heritage was often not represented in the sectors that interested her.

From a young age, Nusheen realised that the colour of her skin could affect her career chances. She is proud of Home Group’s approach to diversity and is helping to enact change from the inside, such as fairer recruitment processes, transparency on gender and BAME pay gaps and acknowledging training needs, including the often 'uncomfortable' dialogue around white privilege.

She said: "We must all speak up and actively challenge discrimination. The challenge is really important - it's not about shouting at someone and being aggressive, you can do it in a very calm and diplomatic way to get your point across.

"At Home Group we have a high proportion of women – almost 60%. We employ more people from BAME communities and more people that have a disability or are from the LGBTQ+ community. We embrace diversity and we ensure that it's not just in our policies and procedures, but our actions reflect and promote equality too. It is about the physical delivery.”

Home Group’s focus has been to listen to colleagues and develop transparency and trust; a big part of this is to ensure representation at all levels and they have also committed to publishing ethnicity data, including those in managerial roles and pay gap information.

The organisation has refreshed and relaunched network groups for colleagues but, rather than just being for show, each has an executive sponsor and are fully supported by senior management.

A Multicultural Action Panel has also been created and is completely led by BAME colleagues, dealing with any issues in a safe space and escalating them as and when appropriate.

Another initiative is Home Group’s Women in Leadership Programme, which saw 32% of delegates gain promotion within six months of completing the course.

Home Group recently launched a provocative brand campaign to show that people can truly be themselves and feel comfortable working for the organisation. Internally, this was supported by new learning for all colleagues on racial bias and unconscious bias.

Nusheen added: "Discrimination in the workplace and diversity has needed to be addressed for a long time. Recent race related events have sent shockwaves across the world but have also fuelled positive action which is welcome and so overdue.

"People are starting to question and see things differently now and it's about acknowledging that it's still very real in the workplace and challenging it when you see it. Especially the more casual nuanced forms which we see today.”

Nusheen also believes that it is important for colleagues to understand white privilege, explaining: "It does make people feel uncomfortable but that is part of the process and it is quite important for organisations to include this in their learning and development training.

"Once you overcome that uneasiness and pro-actively do something positive the benefits are endless."

As well as improving the recruitment process, Home Group has also worked hard to support colleague aspiration internally and ensure underrepresented groups feel confident and able to progress within the organisation.

Their recent Being Brilliant leadership programme, designed to support colleagues to become leaders of the future, saw a third of those completing the course coming from an underrepresented group.

Home Group are also designing a programme specifically for BAME colleagues to support anyone aspiring to move into management or senior management, and help remove any invisible barriers to career progression.

While some have labelled initiatives like the Rooney Rule as a tick box exercise – we’ll only really know its impact if senior representation increases over time – it’s clear that those who are committed to change have it running throughout their whole organisation.

With momentum building, now is the time for more businesses to go from saying they’re inclusive, to backing it up with actions.


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