Seizing the opportunity for change

Debbie Attwood, Group Director of People at ForHousing, discusses creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce

We need to seize this once in a generation opportunity to create a more equitable, inclusive and diverse workforce. 

The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in the workplace - with more than three quarters of working mothers having lost working hours due to childcare during lockdown and the Fawcett Society warning of a widening gender pay gap.

At ForHousing we are on a journey to improve our diversity and be an inclusive organisation. Our mission is to tackle inequality and make a difference to people’s lives.

We believe the rise in new and more flexible ways of working, with a focus on outcomes and not presenteeism, will allow a more diverse group of people to thrive at work.

We recognise that diverse teams bring a diversity of talents, greater innovation and a better understanding of customer needs - resulting in more positive outcomes.

But what do we mean by diversity? 

Diversity is about representation. When we talk about a diversity of talents, we are talking about the representation of different groups among our workforce. 

Inclusion means a sense of belonging. Feeling part of the team. Feeling respected and valued and being heard.

It’s subjective and less tangible than diversity, but equally important. Diversity doesn’t work without inclusion. 

And to be truly inclusive we need to consolidate and build on the flexible working practices that have shown their value more than ever since COVID-19 broke out. 

The world of work is changing, and we believe flexibility in working arrangements needs to be available to everyone. 

This can help increase the number of women securing senior positions and reduce the gender seniority gap.

It benefits not only colleagues but can bring numerous benefits to employers, such as increased productivity and motivation. 

At ForHousing we are passionate about promoting opportunities for all. In partnership with colleagues, we are working together to proactively ensure we are always finding ways to improve when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

ForHousing has a relatively diverse workforce with regard to gender, with just over half of the workforce being female. But when it comes to ethnicity, just 10% of all colleagues are from a minority ethnic background.

The highest population of colleagues are aged between 36 and 45 and under 10% of colleagues have a disability.

We recognise both diversity and inclusion are needed to achieve the winning formula of a workforce that approaches the challenges of an organisation from different, sometimes unexpected perspectives.

Inclusion ensures that fresh ideas will find their way in the innovation process.

ForHousing’s Ideas Studio is all about giving those different perspectives an opportunity to be heard. 

Colleagues are encouraged to make suggestions for improvements to anything in their role or a process. It could be a brand-new idea or an improvement on something we currently do. 

People can submit an idea form online and can also opt to book onto an Ideas Generator workshop, where our Employment and Enterprise team will work with each person at their own pace, helping them gain confidence to push their idea forward and to test things out. 

For example, ideas currently underway include a new front-line app to speed up processes for neighbourhood officers so they can spend more time with tenants, a grassroots litter picking project, a book club and an internal translation service. 

We are also looking to refresh our employment contracts, giving them the new title of ‘lifestyle contract’. These offer a modern, fresh approach to the traditional employment contract and are in keeping with our corporate image and brand. Where, when and how you work will be updated according to the different types of role we offer, while maintaining the legal requirements.

We have introduced a new learning management platform that allows colleagues to manage their own development journey. This aims to create a diverse and inclusive path to unlocking talent and it’s great to see it already making an impact. 

Our series of leadership programmes are aimed at supporting more women in senior positions and these are proving popular. It’s been great to see our nominated ambassadors demonstrate the career opportunities available.

Our newly developed recruitment practices and work life balance policy are helping make more roles open to more people.

But we know we still have more to do. 

We recently invited colleagues to show allyship and add pronouns after their name or email signature.

This is a simple but practical way of making inclusion part of our everyday culture and helping empower everyone to bring their whole self to work.

We are now proactively learning about how we can become an anti-racist ally and working in partnership with colleagues and external professionals to improve our inclusivity and diversity.

But we know these changes take time – we can’t hire and develop a diverse team and create a truly inclusive culture overnight.

Our commitment remains unwavering and we are determined to seize this opportunity for change.

We will continue to listen to colleagues and work with partners and experts to continually improve as we strive towards a culture that maximises the potential of diverse skills, minds, hearts and voices.

Also in this section