Can you start a presentation with a picture of a vile racist bigot?
Those were my thoughts as Sallie Bridgen from HDN opened our session on leadership at a National Housing Federation conference a couple of weeks ago by highlighting things that are currently in the news. The fact that we are discussing this brought home to me the normalisation of a discourse that blames society’s ills on immigrants, and our values of equality, diversity and fairness are relegated to the back burner.
We know that this pandering to dark forces in the external agenda comes at a time of change for both the housing sector and equality agenda as a whole. I remember the time when Audit Commission inspections, whilst not perfect, ensured that housing organisations had to meet certain standards in ensuring that their services where accessible and benefitting all in the community. Much of this approach has been swept away.
There is now little drive or compulsion from the government in promoting equality and this gives housing organisations an opportunity to shape services and policies in a wider framework. For us at New Charter this encompasses both social and economic disadvantage as well as the equality strands. Some of our most disadvantaged communities don’t actually meet the traditional equality characteristics but to us social class is a key determinant of whether communities have access to power, wealth, status, resources and opportunities.
This approach builds upon our strongly held values and commitment to promoting equality of opportunity; celebrating and valuing diversity; eliminating unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and promoting good relations between communities. These values are more important now than ever and are at the core of everything we do, and influence our work.
Our strong corporate culture around improving performance drives the organisation forward in terms of equality and diversity. We, like many organisations now, don’t have a person who does ‘equality and diversity’ instead the Directors’ Team provides internal leadership and direction in this area. This is key for gaining wider ownership and buy-in.
As a Group our Corporate Plan emphasises the need to understand our communities and target resources accordingly, as well as having greater insight into the needs of existing and new customers and responding appropriately. These principles help to ensure equality and diversity are at the heart of the company. The Directors’ Team is responsible to embedding our values so that we are an ethical, responsible and accountable business. We ensure that momentum is maintained through regular quarterly reports and monitoring. We also use the services of HDN – through the mentoring programme and regular dialogue with the HDN team.
We know that disadvantages are not just economic but social and cultural. Our innovative partnership with the local theatre is an example of where we have made access to the performing arts easier for the community, as well as improving their employment and training prospects.
We are now turning our focus to the devolution of services in Greater Manchester. It is important that our communities benefit from the planned growth in the City Region, and are not just left with the crumbs from the table of economic growth. We want to improve our residents’ access to skills and training so that they can access good jobs locally. All part of our wider inequality agenda.
Mushtaq Khan is Director of Commercial Partnerships at New Charter. His twitter handle is @Mushtaq_NewCh