It’s clear that living in a more inclusive world where connection, community and people are prioritised is the only way to ensure everyone can bring their full self to work. Within supported housing we know that Black and Brown people, care leavers and ex-offenders are disproportionately affected. The government’s annual homeless report showed that 10.7% of people applying to councils for help with homelessness between April 2019 and March 2020 were Black, despite making up only three per cent of households in England.

Evolve set up its Equality Diversity and Inclusion group in February with the first meeting taking place in March, only a couple of weeks before the first national Lockdown. The group is made up of staff from across the organisation, including support workers, team leaders, members of the communications team and most importantly, our residents. For groups like these to have a significant impact, there needs to be support from senior leadership, which is why the group is co-chaired by Alice Hainsworth and Elspeth Hayde, who are our Evolve’s Director of Operations and Director of People and Culture .

From the first meeting we knew that there was room for progress and we were embarking on a very important journey. At the time I was a steering group member passionate about change, representation, and promoting and putting inclusive practices into action. The group stands to create better opportunities for Black people, those who identify as LGBTQ+, people with disabilities and everyone who has a protected characteristic and beyond. It is vitally important that these people feel included, valued and that they feel they are heard.

The group set four priority areas early on, which included:

  • Reviewing and updating our Equality and Diversity Policy and developing an Equality Impact Assessment process
  • Developing and facilitating new training on equality and diversity across the organisation specific to people’s roles
  • Engaging with our Board and Leadership Team
  • Responding to the external environment.

The latter being truly important so that we do not ignore the social issues effecting colleagues and our residents.

Since our first meeting the organisation has:

  • Made a commitment to prioritise equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in our Corporate Work Plan 2020/2021
  • Created an action plan with six themes of focus; Policy, Race dialogue, Training, Gender identity, Recruitment and Networks over the next year
  • Recruited a full time EDI Advisor
  • Carried out equality impact assessments for 10 of our policies and put in a process of implementing them for new policies
  • Set up a subgroup to review and update our Equality + Diversity policy which is in its final stage.
  • Promoted Housing Diversity Network mentoring programme to support personal and professional development for colleagues
  • Started pulling together diversity data in order for us to report and benchmark this with the data set for our customers and the communities in which we operate.

At Evolve we have had the support and backing of our CEO Jeremy Gray, members of the Leadership Team and we currently have a Board member who is our board diversity dead and also sits on the EDI steering group, Isabel Sanchez.

“Embracing diversity and being an inclusive organsation is at the heart of who we are, and we are committed to improving and evolving our thinking and approaches. Our EDI group is an example of this, and allows us to really question and change our ways of working for the better.” Isabel Sanchez, Board Member diversity lead.

There is a proven diversity issue within the housing sector as well as the charity sector in general, but there’s also an issue of thinking that representation is all that matters. Yes, representation matters but what is equally important is having a culture where representation thrives, where people have sense of belonging. Where real support systems make representation work. Just because you look diverse as an organisation doesn’t mean you are. One of the first steps to becoming more inclusive is through Board and Leadership Team members leading by example.

I feel confident that through listening and hearing what colleagues and customers think, we can  coproduce initiatives and activities that focus on our key priorities to make real change and progress over the next year.

Words by Fatima Musa, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor

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