Diversity & Confusion – What’s Stopping Progress in the Housing Sector?

20 October 2023
Black and white cartoon showing outline of figure with three question marks above their head

On Thursday 12th October our Director, Lucy Malarkey, was delighted to speak at the HAPN (Housing Association Partnership Network) South Conference about Diversity & Confusion and what it is that is stopping meaningful progress on ED&I within the housing sector. Here’s a blog from Lucy explaining her thoughts…

It’s the National Housing Federation who have taken a lead on establishing just exactly where it is that we are at in terms of diversity in the sector over the past few years. Following a call for data, in December 2021 the Federation launched their insight report on diversity across the housing association sector in England. What this report identified was:

  1. Huge gaps in knowledge where diversity data wasn’t being systematically collected – particularly on those elements of identity outside the 9 protected characteristics
  2. A significant lack of representation. The sector was not reflecting the diversity of their customer base nor the wider geographical population, furthermore, this lack of representation got worse at the most senior levels of associations
  3. A notable lack of people with disabilities working in the sector, despite the huge number living in our communities and general population

Two years later housing associations were asked to submit their revised data and in 2023 the Federation published its follow up insights report. Had meaningful progress been made in this time? In short, the answer has to be no.

The second report identified that there were still significant data gaps and there continues to be a significant lack of representation of people with disabilities in the sector. Whilst the report highlighted improved female representation at senior levels it’s still not reflective of the workforce or communities served and there was little positive change in the ethnic diversity of executive teams and boards.

Were the 2023 results a surprise? Probably not. Have we taken our foot of the gas? Or what else could be stopping meaningful progress?

Without doubt the context has changed in the time period between the initial insights report and the most recent follow up report. In 2020/21 we were all operating in the context post George Floyd’s murder and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Diversity at this time felt like an urgent issue to be addressed. Since then, much has changed, the sector has been under intense scrutiny over quality, we are operating in a cost-of-living crisis and post pandemic culture no longer begins and ends in the physical workplace. New working dynamics have forced organisations to consider how to make hybrid working an integral part of their company culture.

BUT the case for embracing diversity has not diminished and one of the key ways to address these new societal and sector challenges is without doubt a focus on diversity. This is because diversity has far reaching business benefits, the case for embracing and sustaining diversity goes beyond morality. Extensive research has demonstrated that diversity provides different perspectives, increased creativity and innovation, better decision-making and faster problem solving. All very necessary aspects to effectively tackle the challenges we are facing now and in the future.

Furthermore, investing in diversity can enhance an organisation’s reputation, improve hiring results, create competitive advantage, reduce employee turnover, increase levels of engagement and ultimately increase return on investment. People trust leaders that reflect the diversity of the people they lead, the customers they serve, and the communities in which they are rooted.

It’s a strong business case! And this does then beg the question why? What’s stopping meaningful progress?

I think the biggest hurdle that organisations need to overcome to make meaningful progress on diversity and gathering the diversity data is inclusion.

Inclusion is about feeling that you belong. In the workplace an inclusive culture is one in which everyone, regardless of their background or experience, feels that they are being included, heard, recognised, and appreciated. Everyone feels that that they can be comfortable and confident to be themselves, bringing their authentic self to work.

Creating an inclusive culture is what both attracts and retains diverse talent. As The Unmistakeables established in their analysis of 1,600 employees in January 2023, regardless of identity (PCs) on average 50% of people said that they would leave a workplace if it didn’t feel inclusive.

And an inclusive culture is one in which employees will provide their diversity data because they feel that their organisation cares, genuinely, about them as an individual, they trust the organisation and can see the organisation legitimise their interest in collecting the data (i.e. doing something with it).

The thing about inclusion is that to be truly successful then it needs to all pervasive. It’s not just about what you do, the processes, policies and procedures you adopt but also about how you do it, the behaviours everyone in an organisation and in particular the leaders adopt.

So, in summary, the sector has some way to go to make meaningful progress in terms of diversity as the latest National Housing Federation report highlighted. But, just focusing on the data without creating the inclusive culture is not going to make the progress required.

It’s not about everyone being ED&I superheroes but everyone in an organisation has a role to play and the leaders need to take action to demonstrate, genuinely and authentically, their commitment to get this right. To move from diversity and confusion to diversity and inclusion.

Talk to us about how we can support your organisation on your inclusion journey.

Ready to learn more?

With over 50 years of combined experience, we’re the right choice to start you on your inclusion journey.

You may also like:

International Women’s Day 2022 – #BreakTheBias

International Women’s Day 2022 – #BreakTheBias

The call to action for International Women's Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. At Positive About Inclusion we have celebrated this year's event with a commentary article published in Inside Housing alongside a spotlight piece from Gateshead Council, shining a light on female...

Diversity Fluency – We can do Better!

Diversity Fluency – We can do Better!

As highlighted in the recent Inside Housing article, the lack of diversity at the leadership level in the sector continues to be an issue. Whilst this isn't a surprise what has been puzzling me is why? We have been talking about the lack of diversity at the leadership...

Operating Beyond the Vacuum – Addressing Stigma in Social Housing

Operating Beyond the Vacuum – Addressing Stigma in Social Housing

I often speak with clients about operating ‘beyond the vacuum’, how delivering training in isolation (i.e. without the ‘wraparound’ of cultural transformation) is not necessarily going to deliver the change in behaviour, attitude and service delivery required. The...