04 Aug 2020

Now is the time for change

Recent events from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and COVID-19 have made me reflect more than usual. As a white male, I cannot easily relate, however, as a gay man, I am able to provide some level of understanding having faced my own share of inequality in both my personal and professional life.

I’ve spoken to friends, family, and colleagues and it has struck me that there are similarities in our approach to those of any minority. When I apply for a job, I do the usual research, but I always look for the equality make-up of the top tier; something I know a lot of my BAME friends and colleagues do too. I look for posts about equality and steps the organisation takes to ensure true equality. Some organisations give away their approach by silence, but I can guarantee if your organisation has a less-than diverse Board and Executive team, you have missed out on talented diverse individuals, including me.

While, on the whole, my experience in the housing sector has been positive, it hasn’t always been.

Most of the inequality I’ve experienced is not out-and-out homophobia, as I am sure other inequalities are not usually blatant racism or sexism. However, the undertone is the same.

I remember one member of staff once saying to me, while trying to be complementary, “you aren’t like most gay men”, and another adding, “you don’t look gay.” While this may not seem a big deal, what it does is highlight underlying prejudice. I do consider myself to be like other gay men, but I believe what was meant by these statements is that I’m not effeminate, in itself an offensive stereotype.

I also recall an outgoing line manager once felt the need to tell my incoming line manager that I was a homosexual as if this were in some way relevant to the job or her management of me. This underlying prejudice doesn’t foster an environment of inclusivity.

I am very concerned with using lazy language which may cause offence, such as “tar with the same brush” or “nitty-gritty”. Now, the exact history of these phases is unclear but there is a belief that these are related to slavery. Whether this is the case or not, my general approach would be to err on the side of caution and stay well away. I have heard these two sayings more times than I care to remember in a professional environment, and they grate every time I hear them.

Now is the time for change.

We hear many people and organisations in the public eye talk about tolerance. The issue I have with tolerance is that you tolerate your family during the holiday season. True equality is not about tolerance, it is about inclusivity, allowing for all to contribute to the whole.

Just as feminism is not a movement at the expense of men's rights, BLM is not aimed at bringing down white people but is intended to further the cause of the historically down-trodden and lift those individuals up to achieve their full and deserved potential.

The inequality in society has been hammered home by the spread of coronavirus and the sad deaths of many of those impacted by Covid19. Those on a lower pay or with service jobs have not been able to work from home, and these jobs are often carried out by those who come from minority groups.

As a psychology graduate, I know that we are all prejudiced and to treat people with true equality we must all accept that we carry this prejudice. We need to be as hard and reflective on our own opinions, as we are on others'. The irony is that in my experience bigotry does not discriminate and often does not recognise itself.

In housing, we serve a diverse cross-section of society and it is essential that we address the inequality in the products that we offer. Those organisations that deliver outright sale or shared ownership properties in the upper quartile of the housing market often do so with high-end specifications, while neglecting the less profitable end of the market. Too many organisations in my opinion make very large surpluses while neglecting their existing less profitable stock.

My experience of the sector, on the whole, has been very positive, but on the limited occasions that I have met with discrimination, these experiences have had a major impact on my conviction that I must ensure that I am, above all else, a competent manager, who promotes equal opportunities, I am a proud housing professional and I am a proud gay man.

As a member of a minority group, I think it’s essential to speak up, represent the community I come from.

While I do not walk around with a rainbow flag draped over my shoulders, it’s important to be visible. As I have become more senior, I see the significance of being “out” and I believe this gives others strength.

Recently, I have reviewed my opinions, my thoughts, and my views on equality. I remain an ardent supporter of the melting pot. We all have something to add to the societal soup but don’t be the flavour that makes it sour. We must always listen and complement what is already there to make it better.

We all can play our part; we all must call out inequality and be able to recognise it. As a professional body, CIH is just as responsible, if not more so, to lead by example. The world is a bit strange right now, but in terms of equality, it really feels like a positive change is coming, and I’m excited about it.

A blog by Daniel Revell-Wiseman CIHCM