We asked about the number of women and the number of black and minority ethnic (BME) people on their staff. We asked about ages and profession. We asked about how many of housing’s leaders identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT). We also asked about disability.
The aim? To build a picture of how diverse the leadership of our sector really is.
Our findings from the 100 housing associations that responded provide a mixed snapshot. For example, women make up just under 40% of housing’s leadership - a far cry from gender parity still, but this outperforms big business in the UK.
Representation of BME people in leadership roles is very low, at only about 4% of executive roles from those surveyed, while four in 10 housing associations told us they have no BME people on their board. Representation of disabled people and LGBT people in these roles is even lower. Indeed, only nine executives identify as LGBT in our survey - or less than 2%. On boards, the figure is only 14 out of 1,061 people. However, many organisations couldn’t answer the question.
Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) chief executive, Terrie Alafat, says: “We know from our own research that as a sector, housing is actually more diverse than average - it employs a higher proportion of women, people from black and ethnic minority communities and people with a disability than average. But at the top of our organisations, in our boards and senior teams, it’s a different story.”
Not only is this a reputational issue, points out Clifton Robinson, chief executive of the Housing Diversity Network (HDN). It could harm housing associations as they try and adapt to the many changes to their operating environment, from the rent cut to the Right to Buy.
“If housing providers are to make a real difference in terms of coming up with creative and innovative solutions to these massive challenges, they need increasingly to be able to think outside the box. Study after study has demonstrated conclusively that the more diverse the leadership (at both board and executive level), the greater the resulting innovation and creativity.”
Commitment to change
Many housing associations state their commitment to diversity, and are actively working on this. Spectrum, to name just one, has a diversity board in place to monitor its equality and diversity strategy.
Yet the depth of the commitment is less clear. Only about 30 housing associations have signed up to the CIH’s ‘10 by 20’ challenges to improve diversity. The challenges don’t set particular targets, but instead commit the organisations to, for example, champion the business case for diversity, and to collect and publish statistics on the diversity of their own executive and board.
A clear pattern emerges quickly on speaking to almost any housing association with a more diverse leadership - whether that be in terms of gender, race, sexuality, age or disability: passively waiting to see who walks in the door at interview isn’t enough.
Cym D’Souza, chair of BME National, which represents BME housing associations, says: “We need to differentiate between those organisations that are not interested in equality and diversity, and no amount of good practice is going to change them (but potentially a very large stick might), and those organisations that really do want to see a diverse board and senior management team and for some reason are still struggling to achieve this.”
Dr Nigel Nice, chair of one of the most diverse boards in the UK, across all our criteria - Nottingham Community Housing Association - points out: “I’m not into the quota system. But I really feel that by having people from a wide range of backgrounds, we do bring a wide range of knowledge.”
Out of 523 executives working for 100 housing associations:
Executives are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans
Executives are black or minority ethnic
Executives are men
Executives are women
Housing association that has an all-women executive team
Executives are disabled