Riverside takes real and practical steps towards race equality, by Lyn Bowker

Following the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, many organisations rushed to issue public statements and make impressive corporate commitments to eradicate race inequalities.

Here at Riverside, we have been quietly and steadily chipping away at our own race equality agenda since last year, looking at our systems and policies and identifying barriers to progression for our BAME colleagues and job applicants.

Our work started back in the summer of 2019 when, led by our BAME staff network, Origin, we commissioned a piece of research by Inclusive Employers to understand why our BAME colleagues were finding it difficult to progress within our organisation.

Researchers interviewed BAME colleagues, leaders, key officers and managers of all ethnicities to identify what the barriers were. They made recommendations on how we could improve career opportunities for not just our BAME colleagues, but also potential BAME job applicants and graduates.

The report told us our BAME colleagues felt there were barriers to their progression, further evidenced by our ethnicity pay gap, mainly because of an under-representation within senior level posts. We had known for some time we had to do something to improve the diversity of our leadership team and create a talent pipeline for the future. The research gave us a clear agenda for the next 18 months and we have turned the recommendations into an organisation-wide BAME action plan, with three key priority areas – talent acquisition, learning and development and policies and management information.

In the housing world there is currently a great deal of talk about positive discrimination and what positive action looks like. Organisations are sometimes nervous about introducing initiatives which could be perceived as positive discrimination, which is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.

Positive action, on the other hand, includes a range of measures allowed under the Equality Act which can be lawfully taken to encourage and train people from under-represented groups, to help them overcome disadvantages in competing with other applicants. When recruiting, every applicant must be considered on individual merit and selection for interview and appointment must be based strictly on the agreed selection criteria. Applicants cannot be appointed purely on their protected characteristic, but must be chosen on their experience or qualifications. Positive action can be used for recruitment advert statements and targeted job advertising.

The key difference is that positive action is lawful and positive discrimination is most definitely not.

So what are we doing at Riverside?

We are passionate about ensuring our people reflect the very different communities we serve and, on the back of our BAME research, we developed a bespoke Talent Acquisition Strategy with the support of our Origin members to address the findings of that report.

We are taking positive action and have introduced a BAME Guaranteed Interview Scheme to address an under-representation within senior level roles by offering internal and external applicants from BAME backgrounds the option to be considered for an interview for any role at manager level or above if they meet the minimum criteria for that role.

We are asking all job applicants who wish to be considered under this scheme to give us consent to disclose their ethnicity to the recruiting manager. If an applicant does not select this option, we will not share their ethnicity and so will be unable to guarantee an interview even if they meet the minimum criteria. Their application will be considered alongside all other applications.

These are real and positive steps towards our goal of racial equality.

Lyn Bowker is the Equality and Diversity Manager for Riverside, one of the leading registered providers of social housing in the UK.  

Lyn is responsible for the implementation and embedding of equality, diversity and inclusion strategies across the Riverside Group and works with a diverse range of board members, colleagues and customers to ensure a positive, inclusive and open culture is achieved.