Why is Housing different?

    Why is Housing different?

    Running a business, or an organisation…let’s take a Housing Association for example, places multiple demands on the leadership team, the board. And the members on that board must work well together to give their organisation the very best chance of success.

    And then, of course, the board needs a breadth of experience and expertise; with each member ready and willing to trust their colleagues to deliver. But a board with a gaping hole in terms of experience will struggle and, in the case of Housing Associations, the hole is, all too often, in the lived experience of tenants. Here at HDN we promote equality and diversity in terms of opportunity through our board training programmes; it’s one of our core strategies but there is a long, long way to go.

    Take a look at the stats from last year’s Inside Housing Diversity Survey, which shone a glaring spotlight on the weakness of some boards:

    • 62 of 101 associations who responded had all-white executive teams
    • 30 board members (2.6 per cent) identified as lesbian or gay
    • 4.9 per cent of board members were disabled
    • 27 housing associations had no tenants on the board
    • 97 board members were tenants (eight per cent)

    It’s the last two statistics which I’m thinking about today. Less ten per cent of board members are actually tenants.

    Where else would you find this kind of phenomenon, and what makes Social Housing different?

    Take a look at the private sector, where the profit motive underpins strategy, and it’s hard to find a board member or senior manager who has never bought or used the product they provide. Retail bosses in virtually any sector will have bought what they are selling at some point in their lives. Bank executives have accounts, football managers started as fans on the terraces and restaurateurs tend to eat out from time to time.

    Businesses won’t do anything unless it makes financial sense, and leaders in industry know full well that diversity in senior positions creates a better economy; and the bosses know what they are selling.

    And in the public sector the same theory applies. Council leaders use the roads and have had their bins emptied, head teachers went to school themselves and hospital managers (even if they now go private) will certainly have experienced NHS care at some point in their lives, as will all of their family members.

    But how many Housing Association board members have been social housing tenants and how many have lived in a private home all their lives? Looking at the Inside Housing stats I’d hazard a guess that the board members with lived experience will be in the minority and if they were a business they would be at a serious disadvantage.

    Last year, in our second podcast series, we met the inspirational Kwajo Tweneboa, the social housing campaigner who took on Clarion and has championed the cause of tenants the length and breadth of the country. Official figures show that over four million houses in the UK are substandard and ITV has recently run a story on some of the very worst.

    Every Housing Association needs a Kwajo, a passionate, intelligent voice, experienced beyond his years. And while he’s a busy boy at the moment there will be thousands of talented tenants with the potential to make a real difference.

    They just need someone to give them a chance.

    Changing the profile of a board takes time because we often recruit potential, but that potential can materialise into positive change very quickly. Putting our faith in younger candidates, who can truly reflect society and our tenants, can bring the vibrancy, energy and practical experience that every board needs.

    Every other organisation I can think of (this morning) has board members who have used or bought the service or product they provide. There is no reason Social Housing should be so different.


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