Despite progress, the housing industry still has many strides to take when it comes to creating a more inclusive workforce. Here we explain why, and what can be done to make that all-important change.

Social housing is a sector deeply rooted in addressing inequality and supporting the individual needs of a diverse population. The entire purpose of social housing is to provide greater access to secure homes for those who have fewer opportunities in their life. The aim should be to support them in the best way possible - and yet a huge section of these communities go largely underrepresented when it comes to the staff delivering the services.

There is still a substantial need for more diverse workforces in housing associations; especially when it comes to higher-level positions. And it is our duty - as an industry - to make this a reality.

So, why do we need to open more opportunities to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in housing?

While progress has been made, it isn’t enough. Steps must be taken to welcome a more diverse workforce that breaks down barriers and better represents the communities we support.

But building a more equal and diverse sector won’t happen overnight: it’s something that needs constant work and attention. Read on for our guide on why this matters, where we currently stand and what we need to do to bring about a change.

team of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds in social housing

How is the BAME community currently represented in the housing sector?

Not very well, to be totally frank.

The Inclusive Futures campaign by Inside Housing found that just 9.1% (twice as much as the year previous) of social housing executives and 13.6% of board members identified as Black, Asian or minority ethnic. This is despite research showing that 43% of all black households and 25% of all ethnic minority households live in the social rented sector (compared to 16% of white households).

And while this is a move in the right direction, it’s important to note that the research was conducted on a self-selecting group that made the conscious choice to respond. You have to ask yourself, would the underperforming organisations even respond in the first place?

Whatever way you look at it, the representation is not matching up. We know that the BAME community has serious barriers when it comes to gaining employment in high-level positions. In fact, BAME people hold just 4.6% of the world’s most powerful roles. Plus, with a frightening spike in homelessness for Black, Asian or minority ethnic communities (shooting from 18% to 36% in the last two decades), the sector needs to sit up, pay attention and cultivate a far more representative workforce.

The sector needs to represent the community that it serves.

We aren’t snubbing the hard work that inclusion and diversity teams have carried out within the sector; far from it. There is work going on - we just need more of it.

The problem is that many of the current initiatives are simply failing. They have all the right intentions, but they’re missing the mark.

They see diversity and equality as a problem that needs a solution.

This mindset is wrong from the word go. Instead of ‘fixing the problem’, the sector needs to embed entirely new policies, refresh their recruitment procedures and encourage new ways of thinking among all staff. This isn’t a task that needs to be crossed off a list: it should be a fully ingrained part of your entire culture and strategy as a business.

They use the wrong measures of success.

Several of the current procedures look at success in terms of inputs rather than outcomes. They set themselves a benchmark number of training hours they need to provide, or a certain amount of staff they want to take part in a course, workshop, webinar... Or perhaps they judge their success based on how many complaints are coming in, or how many positive reviews they’re receiving… … You get the drift. This misses the point.

Businesses should be focusing, instead, on what is physically happening right in front of them. Is your employment base more representative of your service users as a result of the changes you have made? Are you really showing your community that you understand them and represent them?

Mindset and misinformation still need a LOT of work.

We are still surrounded by endless injustice and misinformation; stigmas are rife and unconscious biases are very present. These attitudes should be taken into consideration during the recruitment process - yes, years in a job matter, but what about an individual’s mindset? Part of ongoing training programmes should include conversations and opportunities to examine these biases. Only then can we truly alter the way people see the world and the plethora of individuals, cultures and communities living in it.

They don’t teach teams about cultural differences.

You may have a diverse team, but how much do they all understand and appreciate the people that they are not only working with but delivering a service to? This can be achieved by creating a culturally flexible environment - one where cultural intelligence is deemed as important as emotional intelligence, and information is made readily available about the cultural differences across the wider community.

Okay, so we know what isn’t working - what’s the answer to creating more diverse workforces in social housing?

The social housing sector has unparalleled potential to move the diversity and inclusivity conversation forward. We’ve already mentioned many of the ways in which you can shift current practices, including:

  • Adopting a polarity thinking framework that values the truth and wisdom on both sides of an issue
  • Embedding new practices into your working culture
  • Readdressing your success markers
  • Starting from the top with better, more inclusive leadership roles and practices
  • A bigger focus on cultural intelligence within the workplace

It’s also key to remember that you do not have to make these changes on your own. Bringing in external support can be a brilliant way to get an outside perspective of the areas that are lacking when it comes to inclusivity within your workplace. They will mark this against your specific community and then bring in regulation and diversity performance indicators to ensure substantial representation in your leadership teams.

Basically, they’ll take the reins and guide you towards an environment that recognises, respects and represents the people that they serve.

executive board of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds in social housing

This is our chance - as a sector - to put inclusion at the heart of social housing.

As we approach three years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we cannot hide from the fact that the crossover between poverty and ethnicity is only growing. It is our job to make sure that these communities - the ones that are an enormous part of the social housing landscape - are seen and heard… And that, in turn, they can see and hear from people that better represent them.

As a sector, we need to lead the change.

To find out how Moxie is playing their own parting in supporting social housing residents, take a look at the Moxie Foundation. Or, if you’re searching for your own way to leave a positive mark on your community, get in touch for an informal chat about our latest job seeker opportunities.