I have a theory that if a major event repeats itself three times we should be worried. The Diversity Commission that has been established by Steve Stride, the CIH President, is the third housing led commission on the issue in my career. The first was established after a period of social unrest in 1981. It was called The Race and Housing Enquiry. It was established by the National Housing Federation and the CRE and I was the Secretary. It published two reports in 1982 and in 1983 which were full of advice, recommendations and best practice. The second was established after similar unrest in 1990s. It was set up by the Housing Corporation and the CRE and I was a member. It also published a report which made the business case for diversity. And now the CIH are investigating similar issues. I am not a member of this Commission. It is time for others to take on this responsibility.
To someone who has been involved in diversity issues since the mid 1970s the background to yet another commission is depressingly familiar. A recent Inside Housing report has shown that even though the composition of housing association boards has changed the proportion of women and black and ethnic minority ethnic people has not. This is reflected by the lack of women in leadership roles and the almost total absence of leaders from BAME backgrounds. Other research has shown a significant reduction in lettings of social homes to BAME families. All of this reinforces Steve Stride’s message that after 30 years of claiming to be champions of diversity the housing sector is still “pale, male and increasingly frail”
In these circumstances I support the setting up of another commission. If it does no more it will help to raise the profile of this importance issue. My only advice to those on the Commission is do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. The two previous enquiries produced advice and recommendations that are still relevent today. The sector is full of other good advice on the subject. What is needed is action and regulatory sanctions if housing associations fail to act. I supported this in the first and second enquiry and in the light of current evidence of failure I support it still.
One thing I have learned after all these years is that there is no magic solution. I have witnessed the introduction of record keeping and monitoring. I have been involved in target setting and positive action. I have organised fast track training and numerous awareness sessions. I have helped to establish and fund BAME led housing associations and I have worked with and appointed Chief Executives and Chairs who are women or who come from BAME backgrounds. I believe strongly that if organisations are committed to equality and diversity this will be reflected in its workforce its leadership and its governance
In all the successful diverse organisations I have known there is a correlation between those who are serious about diversity and the composition of their boards and leadership teams. One almost always leads to another. I am currently the member of a housing association board which has a woman Chair and Deputy Chair and we have just appointed an excellent woman Chief Executive from an exceptionally strong field.
Of course there is a need to ensure the correct policies and procedures are in place to ensure a diverse leadership and board but unless diversity is treated as a top business priority housing associations will fail to deliver as the recent evidence shows. 32 years after the publication of the first guide on diversity in the housing sector there is no longer any excuse for failure.