By Chyrel Brown, Chief Operating Officer, One Housing.

2022 is set to be another challenging year for housing associations, with Covid-19, the pressure on household budgets and the continuing potential for seismic disruptions to everyday life, forcing us to operate at the extremes of organisational flexibility.

To adapt, we all need to bring out the best in our staff and ensure we can hear everyone’s ideas and insights.

Creating a working environment centred on mutual respect and a celebration of difference, and that acts as a place where staff are empowered to bring their best authentic selves to work, is vital to achieving this. But how can noble intentions translate into real actions and tangible improvements to our sector?

One Housing has been on a journey over the last year to update our approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) following a three-month consultation with our staff and customers.

It followed our response to the national conversation around equality in Britain and our collective recognition that we need to continually strive to do more in reflecting the diversity of London and the South East.  This has led to real changes in our staff training, leadership development work, governance processes and recruitment approach.

Staff now have more forums that feed directly into corporate decision making and setting day-to-day priorities, and we have plans for a single Diversity Champion to work with our ED&I networks in driving the overall agenda forward.

For our customers, we hope this means they can see an organisation that aims to listen to everyone’s concerns and meet their needs with sensitivity.

But our strategy is not a document to simply sit on a shelf or in a board report – it will guide our actions and evolve overtime as we better understand the challenges we need to meet.

Last month we saw National Housing Federation research provide an up-to-the-minute description of the equality and diversity of our sector.

It was an important survey, though it’s clear more work is needed to develop a full picture. However, we can already see that our sector has a lack of representation from people living with disabilities and our executive teams are less ethnically diverse than our staff. This type of insight is vital if the sector is going to move forward.

Today we recognise that the Covid-19 crisis and continuing disruptions in society have hit some groups harder than others.

As radical change is set to continue into 2022, we need to ensure different groups aren’t disproportionally affected by the actions we take as housing and care providers. Equally, we need staff who feel confident and supported by their employer, as we continue to ask them to go above and beyond.

By listening to our staff and customers, I hope that One Housing can continue to use ED&I as an important part of the toolkit driving organisational improvement, ensuring we are in the best position to meet the challenges of the new year.