Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees in the housing sector will benefit from improved routes to senior roles thanks to a ground-breaking new partnership between housing providers in Greater Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University.
The Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) partnership has worked with researchers from Manchester Metropolitan to address the underrepresentation of BAME employees in senior roles.
In 2018, an Inside Housing survey revealed that nearly three-quarters of UK housing associations had an executive team that was completely white, and two were led entirely by white male executives.
The survey also revealed that little had changed in the previous two years when investigations into diversity in senior positions in the housing sector began.
The ‘Championing Change for BAME Leadership’ programme is now recommending solutions to diversify the housing sector’s leadership by recognising and addressing unfair barriers to leadership, as well as developing up-and-coming BAME colleagues.
In a report published last week, researchers have outlined eleven recommendations to be taken forward by GMHP organisations; some of which are already being embedded because of the programme.
Through these recommendations, researchers have helped to create a change, where barriers to leadership are highlighted through mentoring relationships and tackled by dedicated ‘Change Champions’ and senior leadership.
At the same time, housing providers have committed to keep prioritising this change by publishing and monitoring their ethnicity pay gaps and creating a culture in their organisations that encourages BAME leaders and progression.
Over the past 19 months housing association directors have been paired with BAME staff in reciprocal mentoring relationships, which were supported by nominated ‘Change Champions’ across GMHP.
This enabled staff at all levels to talk about race in the workplace and to come together in a commitment to tackle unfair barriers to leadership.
The mentorships were guided by a unique ‘Enquiry Tool’, designed by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan, which summarises some of the factors causing the underrepresentation of BAME staff in leadership roles and poses ‘enquiring questions’ to help the mentors and mentees reflect on their own experiences and organisations and plan change.
Since October 2019, each partnership has met monthly to share experiences and discuss the actions needed to improve the routes to leadership for BAME employees in the housing sector.
Devon Poyser, Equality and Inclusion Business Partner at Southway Housing and one of the BAME mentees involved in the project, said: “My previous experience of BAME leadership programmes is that they are well-intentioned but the enthusiasm diminishes and actions get put on the back burner. However, the GMHP programme feels different – I have waited for over 30 years to hear so many white executive colleagues speak so frankly and passionately about the lack of BAME leaders in senior roles in housing.
“We need to use the energy of the participants from the programme combined with the genuine passion for change shown across GMHP to create lasting diversity at the top level of housing organisations in Greater Manchester and beyond.”
Dr Helen Woolnough, Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “It is a fact that that BAME employees are underrepresented in leadership roles in the UK.
“Our research tells us that organisational processes obstruct the progression and retention of BAME employees in leadership roles. Through our partnership with GMHP we hope that housing associations will become pioneering organisations in developing sustainable movements for change so that creating better routes for BAME leadership is a priority that continues to matter and where we can see meaningful progress.”
GMHP is now looking at ways to share the recommendations from the programme in Greater Manchester and in the housing sector, while exploring further partnerships with Manchester Metropolitan University to help develop and sustain lasting change for BAME employees and leadership teams.
Each housing provider has supported the development of the programme and committed to a future mentorship programme beginning in 2022, which will be informed by the feedback and input from the first cohort.
The project has been led by GMHP partners Arawak Walton and Southway Housing Trust. Cym D’Souza, Chief Executive at Arawak Walton, said: “Most social housing providers work in extremely diverse communities, and it’s really important that as a sector we better reflect that diversity in our teams, particularly at a senior level.
“Workforce demographics across GMHP show that diversity is a real challenge, most acutely among board and leadership teams, and a lot of that challenge stems from a cultural issue within the housing sector in terms of how people move through the system and get jobs and promotions.
Karen Mitchell, Chief Executive at Southway Housing Trust, added: “Through this project we’ve not been afraid to shine a light on these issues and barriers, and GMHP partners have worked collaboratively to identify lasting solutions that will ensure a more level playing field for anyone who wants to progress their career in the housing sector.
“Our learning and recommendations are not only being embedded across GMHP, but others in the sector are also starting to take them on board, and we hope our work can be a catalyst for lasting change, both in Greater Manchester and beyond.”