Mushtaq Khan, Interim Chief Executive of the Housing Diversity Network, talks about whether the #BLM movement will leave lasting change in the UK’s housing sector.
Corporations on both sides of the Atlantic recently sided with the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement in response to the latest incidents in America. Usually shy of getting involved in anything deemed political, they made the call that taking a stand against racial injustice and police violence was now on-brand – although the irony was lost on some (really, Washington Redskins?).
Not long after, some housing organisations tweeted black screens and hashtags supporting the #BLM, while others said nothing at all. Although more likely to speak out on social issues, I was not expecting the housing sector to take a stand on race and equality issues.
However, I do think some follow-up tweets showing the organisation’s boards and executive teams would have been far more illuminating. Then we’d have really got a picture of how far they’ve come in developing talent, making sure that they reflect the communities that they serve and addressing structural racism.
Interestingly, my own knowledge of #BLM has been influenced by a book I finished just before lockdown.
In American Islamophobia, Khaled Beydoun states the discrimination towards Muslims and black people has a long and intertwined history in the country. He writes extensively on the systematic and violent way that policing is carried in the States against both communities of colour and Muslims, and how it doubly affects those who are black and Muslim. He goes on to state that dismantling structural racism has many facets and takes time.
And how does this crossover to the UK? Well, institutional discrimination is alive and well. The travails of the Metropolitan Police are seemingly never-ending – and to that list we can now add the BBC, the criminal justice system, and even the football industry.
In some respects, organisational and structural bias is more important than tackling overt individual biases.
Slow to change
And the housing sector? Have we moved on in 30 years? Or are we still having the same debates as we did then? Who’s the exemplar of good practice? Who’s really in touch with their communities and works in partnership with like-minded bodies? What can the regulator do?
I’d argue that we haven’t moved on much. There are pockets of good practice and some chief execs and chairs are forward-thinking and really trying out there. I like the thinking behind the Leadership 2025 but there are too few personal development programmes. I think we’ve always talked a good story but the pace of change is glacial.
And the housing sector? Have we moved on in 30 years? Or are we still having the same debates as we did then?
So, what do we do about it?
There’s not one answer. I’d treat inclusion as a journey along three fronts. It’s about the services you provide, the make-up of your workforce and the diversity of your board and leadership team.
The best organisations know the communities that they work in. They know, for example, that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected certain community groups, and look to protect both staff and tenants. They have already revised their equality risk assessments.
They also know about workforce development, and the disadvantages that certain groups face in terms of hiring and promotion. They use mentoring and coaching, and leadership programmes to enable staff to prosper. And they know that diversity in executive leadership and board positions is not only right but makes business sense.
They don’t do quick fixes but work on succession plans as they seek to grow their organisation for the changing world we live in.
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