Leadership 2025 – Creating a more diverse leadership

Posted: 23rd November 2017

The first six participants of an intensive business school-accredited programme to support BME housing managers into senior leadership positions were announced today, at an event at City Hall.

Leadership 2025 – a nine-month initiative sponsored by L&Q, Optivo, BME London and supported by the Mayor of London – offers practical learning aimed at executive-ready and chief executive-ready senior managers from BME Backgrounds.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “London’s housing crisis is one of the biggest barriers to Londoners fulfilling their potential: it holds back growth, increases living costs and stops Londoners from sharing in the prosperity our city generates. That’s why as Mayor I’ve made clear that tackling London’s housing crisis is one of my top priorities. And if we’re to meet to this challenge we need to make sure our housing sector can draw on the talents of people from the widest possible range of backgrounds.

“Diversity is one of London’s greatest strengths and I’m delighted to support the launch of this new programme for future leaders from the capital’s BAME communities and I’m excited about the impact it can have – not only in terms of tackling the housing crisis, but in helping to create a fairer, better, more inclusive London.”

The six participants, all of whom went through a rigorous selection programme, come from a range of housing organisations, include some of the largest and some of the smallest in the country. In addition to the formal learning, they will also receive mentoring advice from current housing sector leaders, attend master classes on technical aspects of housing association leadership, and receive exposure to leaders in other sectors.

Gina Amoh, Chief Executive of Inquilab HA, Chair of BME London Group of 14 BME Landlords and member of the Leadership2025 Steering group, said: “For our sector, it is specific, tailored and relevant. Probably more relevant than the MBA that I have, which was interesting and useful, but not nearly as directly focused on our sector as this programme is. I hope that many of my colleagues and the next generation of leaders will step up to take part in the programme, supported in their ambitions by their employers.

“Our ambition is to have a pool of talented leaders in our sector from BME backgrounds, recognised for their leadership qualities and pushing for opportunities to be leaders across our sector.”

The event also launched The Altair review – creating a more ethnically diverse leadership across the sector. The research project explores what organisations and sector leaders could do to effect a culture change in the leadership at the top of housing organisations.

The housing association sector has always prided itself on its inclusivity and focus on meeting the needs of diverse communities. The creation of a BME housing sector in the late 1970s and early 1980s was regarded by some as the most bold, ambitious and successful equalities and empowerment programme in Europe at the time. It was a demonstration of how important diversity was to the sector’s core purpose.

Yet in February 2016, a survey by Inside Housing disclosed that only 19 out of more than 500 executives in the UK’s largest housing associations were BME. [1] In November 2017, a similar survey showed the situation had hardly changed with only 3 BME chief executives (out of 64 associations to respond) and 15 BME executives (including the three chief executives) out of 330 executives, from this smaller sample – the equivalent of 4.5%.

It is not that the talent doesn’t exist. Research by The Guardian and Operation Black Vote – as part of its Inequality Project – has shown that BME individuals in major organisations are over-qualified for their roles compared with their white counterparts, This led them to conclude that BME talent “is not necessarily lacking in abundance, but it is seriously lacking in support.

Steve Douglas, Co-Chief Executive of Altair, who conducted the review, said: “The business reasons to achieve ethnic diversity across leadership teams are compelling. From research undertaken by academics, business leaders in other sectors and other countries, and business advisers such as McKinsey and PWC, we’ve identified a number of clear benefits that can be gained by housing associations. These include diversity of thought leading to better business decisions, more effective solutions and greater connection to communities.’

The review has a practical but ambitious set of activities to effect the step-change called for.

1. Report annually on key diversity statistics

Organisations should report on key diversity statistics in their annual reports, including BME representation at Executive and Board level, as well as drawing comparisons to the ethnic diversity of their tenants/residents and the communities that they serve.
These figures should cover the areas which associations feel will enable them to tackle any underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in their leadership teams. At the very least this might include pay-gap calculations based on race / ethnicity.

2. Set aspirational targets

As per the CIH’s Leading Diversity by 2020 report, we recommend that organisations set aspirational targets for their board and committee recruitment from under-represented groups. This will help ensure that governance structures are representative of their wider communities. This approach should also be extended to include aspirational targets for executive teams and mid-tier management roles. Performance against these aspirational targets should be reported internally but also monitored and publicised.

3. Interview more diverse pools of candidates

We recommend that organisations should adopt a policy of committing, wherever possible, to interviewing at least one BME candidate when recruiting to senior leadership positions to the board or executive. In instances where organisations do not adopt or comply with this policy they should explain why in their annual report.

4. Develop the leadership pipeline

We recommend that organisations actively develop their leadership pipeline, by placing an increased focus on developing talent of junior and middle-management BME individuals in their organisations. This will help with up skilling and retaining staff.

5. Lead by example

We recommend that Chief executives and boards should take a pro-active and visible role in promoting, monitoring and endorsing all recommendations from the research. A sector wide culture shift will only occur if it is driven from the top.

We recommend that Chief executives and boards should take a pro-active and visible role in promoting, monitoring and endorsing all recommendations from the research. A sector wide culture shift will only occur if it is driven from the top.

This should include signing up to a leadership index of champions for diversity, who are empowered to commit their organisations to work to change the leadership profiles, including middle managers by 2025. These champions/ leaders within the sector should be drawn from all ethnic backgrounds and genders to help facilitate the sector-wide culture shift and they might be a key number of board members, a senior executive, or the chief executive themselves.

Steve added: “We have been encouraged by the levels of engagement from consultees and commentators, many of whom have already pledged their organisations to be part of the leadership index of champions, committing to take forward the plan of actions, and acknowledge the urgency for action.”

Speaking at the launch, Paul Hackett, current Chair of G15, the group of the largest housing associations in London and Chief Executive of Optivo, said: “As current leaders we must take responsibility for our watch. Lamentable progression rates of my brilliantly talented BME sector colleagues will hold back this amazing sector unless I’m prepared to do something. I’m going to take this challenge on the chin. This is my problem. I hope my fellow leaders will do the same. We have a strategic problem and, like any leader, it’s our responsibility to take ownership and sort it out.”

To find out more about the Leadership2025 initiative, the Altair Review action plan or how to be part of the leadership index of champions, further details can be found at www.leadership2025.co.uk


[1] Survey sample was of the 100 of the largest housing associations in the UK by stock owned.

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