The Housing Collective: Changing the Face of Leadership to Reflect Diversity

6 mins
Tom Neely

By Tom Neely

In this third post exploring our recent Housing Collective podcast with Fiona Fletcher-Smith, L&Q Group Chief Executive Officer and the newly-appointed chair of London’s G15 organisation, we discuss how the leaders of today can pave the way for the changing face of leadership tomorrow—and what practical steps can be taken to ensure that the C-suite reflects the diverse communities that housing organisations represent.

The second episode of our Housing Collective podcast, delivered in partnership with crowdfunding platform Beam, sees Neemar Search founder Tom Neely catching up with Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Chief Executive Officer for L&Q Group and newly-appointed chair of London’s G15 organisation, to understand what CEOs can do to address the racial and gender imbalance at the senior level within the housing industry.

We explore not only what leaders such as Fiona are currently doing to tackle the issue of actively supporting diverse professionals but also offer some suggestions on how this talent can be leveraged for the good of the whole industry.

Actively Supporting Diverse Professionals in Their Career Progression

The comments of Jitinder Takhar, former CEO of Homes for Lambeth, highlight the continuing lack of equality for workers within the housing sector, particularly at the executive level. This is especially true in a city such as London, where 40% of the population is black, Asian, or another minority ethnicity.

Alongside these concerns, a more diverse housing sector will be best placed to tackle the challenges facing residents across the UK. A recent report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has highlighted that a quarter of BAME workers are paying unaffordable housing costs, compared to 10% of white workers—whilst 24% of Bangladeshi households and 18% of Pakistani households are overcrowded. As Fiona highlights in the course of our conversation:

“The idea of affordability just being a ‘London and the South East’-issue is rubbish—affordability is an issue everywhere.”

In her work with G15, Fiona and her fellow CEOs have set themselves a goal of addressing under-representation by changing the face of leadership within the housing sector to reflect London’s true diversity. The organisation’s Accelerate Programme is aimed at imparting leaders with the skills they need to succeed within the modern business environment.

G15 Accelerate is a Chartered Management Institute-accredited programme which offers learners level 5 and 7 apprenticeship pathways, providing access to practical masterclasses from CEOs and department leaders from across the organisations that make up the G15. The course begins with a basic question posed by Fiona in our podcast:

“What are we actually doing to support people into career progression and new jobs?”

The first delivery saw 37 employees successfully complete the programme and pass the end-point assessment, whilst the 2022 programme is currently underway and helping to shape the future of the housing sector.

Beginning with an analysis of learning and development needs to ensure that all content studied is contextually relevant, with a focus on bespoke and flexible learning. This is especially important since the course is being offered to current executives with a fast-paced schedule, providing eLearning and micro-learning opportunities, podcasts, and interactive exercises alongside the theoretical study of the latest innovations in leadership management techniques.

Facilitating courses such as G15 Accelerate is an excellent way for BAME leaders to network and gain the understanding and expertise necessary to achieve success within the housing sector. Programme alumni have been encouraged to sponsor new trainees and share their experiences, continuing Fiona’s thread of radical candour that we discussed in our last blog article.

Not only can courses such as these help leaders to navigate the complexities of being a diverse professional in an industry which is admittedly improving—albeit not where it needs to be—but it can also serve to enhance their organisational strategy and planning techniques, as well as their understanding of operational management, business ethics, marketing, and finance.

How To Make Sure That This Talent is Utilised for the Good of the Housing Sector

It’s clear that programmes such as G15 Accelerate are a great way for aspiring and current leaders from BAME communities to gain an understanding of the latest techniques and theoretical knowledge, but how can we ensure these future CEOs are able to drive further change within the sector? As Fiona notes:

“It’s one thing to support [BAME leaders] through this degree-level or Master’s-level qualification, but what then?”

This raises a crucial question for current CEOs—once we’ve levelled the playing field in terms of skills and networking, how can we ensure that these individuals are placed in leadership positions that will positively impact the entire housing sector?

This is more than just a question of allyship. It’s becoming increasingly clear that diversity, equity, and fostering an inclusive workplace is business-critical, inspiring investor confidence and improving profits. Indeed, diverse leadership teams can boost their product and service innovation by over 19% more than their less-diverse competitors, whilst 45% of these more-diverse companies report higher revenue as a result of this innovation compared to organisations with below-average diversity scores.

This is particularly important in the housing sector, where we’re reshaping and revitalising communities.

For instance, as L&Q Group was looking to get a better understanding of the communities they would be working in across the North West—as a result of their acquisition of Trafford Housing Trust—the company appointed a local candidate, Ali Heald, as its Partnerships Director. Possessing an understanding of the complex nature of challenges for housing associations within this region, Ali was able to forge new connections with communities and residents.

As Fiona highlights, improving the image of the housing sector and addressing the unique needs of different communities requires us to:

“...actually go and talk to people… You have to respect the existing ecosystem in housing… there are partnerships there that have been working really effectively for years and doing brilliant stuff.”

It’s important that the journey doesn’t finish at the learning and development phase. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are in an excellent position to go to their community and raise their concerns with their colleagues, driving impactful changes in housing quality and quantity in areas which have formerly felt unrepresented by the predominantly white—and male—housing sector.

CEOs such as Fiona encourage a growth mindset through these initiatives and suggest their colleagues take calculated risks and learn from their mistakes. Employees are encouraged to challenge the status quo and develop new ideas, and, as we mentioned in our previous post, her team are always encouraged “not to stay in their lane”.

This has allowed her to continue to drive a culture of creativity, learning, and resilience within L&G Group—to take the inevitable failures and mistakes and bounce back stronger than before.

Schemes such as the G15 Accelerate programme are vital as we move into an uncertain future within the housing industry. A joint study from Gap International and the Society for Human Resource Management found that businesses prioritising inclusive leadership practices and encouraging diverse contributions are more likely to have lower staff turnover and coordinate their teams effectively, whilst individual employee resilience was also improved.

This enables staff to manage periods of high workload, evaluate their performance, request opportunities for continuous professional development, and ask for support from their colleagues and leaders when needed.

Our conversation with Fiona sheds light on the importance of changing the face of leadership in the housing sector to reflect the diverse communities that their residents represent. Addressing the racial and gender imbalance at the senior level requires practical steps and active support for professionals from diverse backgrounds. The G15 Accelerate programme, spearheaded by Fiona and her fellow CEOs, aims to impart these leaders with the necessary skills to succeed in this dynamic industry.

Whilst such courses of learning and development are crucial, it’s equally important to ensure that the talent nurtured through these initiatives are placed in leadership positions to drive positive change throughout the housing sector. The significance of diversity and inclusion goes beyond allyship—it’s quickly becoming a critical factor for business success, leading to enhanced innovation, improved profits, and the support of formerly underrepresented communities amidst the housing crisis.

By engaging with these communities, respecting existing partnerships, and empowering their employees to challenge the status quo, housing organisations can amplify the impact of diverse leaders and address the unique needs of the many different regions they serve. By embracing diversity, the housing sector can build a strong and more equitable future for everyone.

Specialist Housing Executive Search Firm

Whether you’re a candidate making a career change or you’re a business leader searching for a seasoned expert within the housing industry, Neemar Search is here to support you.

If you’re interested in learning more about the challenges facing the housing sector or you’re searching for more leadership lessons, join the Housing Collective Newsletter for the latest expert insights.

We’re dedicated to partnering with leading not-for-profit housing associations, local authorities, arms-length management organisations (ALMOS), and for-profit enterprises to drive change within the industry through executive staffing solutions. Whether you require recruitment expertise within corporate or customer services, asset management, development, or finance, we can help you to make an impact. Contact us to learn more about our specialist hiring services within the housing industry.

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