The theme of this year’s Black History Month is ‘Actions not Words’.
As Co-chair of Evolve’s EDI group, and a manager who has worked in the housing sector for many years, I know how appropriate this theme is. There is a big difference between actions and words when it comes to equality and social change. While words can help sometimes, it’s actions that make a difference to people’s lives. Actions can also lead to other actions in a way that words don’t.
People have been talking about equality and diversity for a long time, including in the housing sector. There have been improvements, but there is much more that must be done. For example, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are still not properly represented in senior leadership positions in housing organisations, and they still earn less on average. We don’t need more words, we need actions.
We can see how words and actions differ in the wider world. For example, as a sports fan I often think about how we can learn from what sports teams have done. In America, we have seen how concrete steps can create change which in turn generates more action and more change. For instance, mandating certain numbers of players from ethnic minorities in certain sports has increased representation and made access fairer; that has increased visibility, which has brought new audiences to watch; that in turn creates more diverse audiences, encouraging greater integration and bringing together people with new things in common. In other words, actions have led to more actions.
Housing can learn from this, and one example is visibility. If specific actions are taken to increase the number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in visible leadership positions, it will spark actions from others. It will challenge ideas about which people do which roles and inspire others to apply for positions they might not have applied to before.
This is the kind of action we are seeking to achieve through our Race Action Plan. Real, measurable action that creates change, like more inclusive recruitment practises, reverse mentoring, network groups and new safeguarding and complaints systems.
When efforts like these are successful, everybody wins. We need different perspectives and lived experiences to be present in every part of an organisation, otherwise you keep doing things the same way and you miss opportunities to improve. Lack of diversity causes mistakes, and it stops everyone from progressing.
That’s one reason why Black History Month is so important. Prevailing narratives and ideas about what kinds of people do what have been in place for a long time, and we all lose when these are not challenged. It is important that we recognise this, discuss it, but most importantly take actions which change how people think and act.
Robert Carroll is Area Manager for Housing at Evolve, and Co-chair of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group, ‘Your Voice’.