Why the Rooney Rule matters.

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L&Q has announced it will interview at least one BME candidate and one female candidate when recruiting for senior rules. Steve Douglas explains why this is important.

” L&Q is  to adopt the Rooney rule, as part of its pledge to be a leadership diversity champion, follows hot on the heels of the GLA’s encouragement for housing associations to publish what they are doing on the diversity challenge.

For the many staff who work in housing associations from BME and diverse backgrounds, up and down the country, who may have felt that the glass ceiling continued to exist within our sector, there is a positive sense that the spotlight on diversity may bring change.

We know that the talent is out there. Research by The Guardian and Operation Black Vote – as part of its Inequality Project – has shown that BME individuals in major organisations are over-qualified for their roles.

The Leadership2025,  9 month intensive business school accredited programme, has sought to identify this talent and to prepare them for the glass maze of leadership. Aimed at executive ready and chief executive ready senior managers from BME Backgrounds and supported by Optivo, L&Q and BME London Landlords, it includes as a strategic learning programme, with practical learning, and sector masterclasses. It also includes sector leadership mentoring. The first cohort are mid-way through their course, and the second programme has just opened its door for applications.

The ambition of the programme is to produce a pool of talented leaders in our sector from BME backgrounds, recognised for their leadership qualities and pushing for opportunities to be leaders across our sector.

The business reasons to encourage this cohort and to achieve ethnic diversity across leadership teams are compelling. From research undertaken by academics, business leaders in other sectors and other countries, and business advisers such as McKinsey and PWC, the case is irrefutable, and a review that we undertook in November 2017, identified a number of clear benefits that can be gained by housing associations. These include diversity of thought leading to better business decisions, more effective solutions and greater connection to communities.

However, to make the difference, in recruiting diverse talent, it needs employers to think differently when they recruit. This is why the Rooney rule matters.

The Altair review called for a step change in our approach to diversity and recommended a practical five point plan, including adoption of the Rooney rule:

  1. Report annually on key diversity statistics
  2. Set aspirational targets
  3. Interview more diverse pools of candidates
  4. Develop the leadership pipeline
  5. Lead by example

Taken together the five point plan, over time should bring about the cultural diversity at the top of the sector.

To date a small handful of Housing Associations have stepped up to the challenge. But if the UK Cricket Board can sign up to the Rooney rule and an action plan for diversity, then we as a sector should be equally visible and demonstrable in our commitment. Optivo, L&Q, Shepherds Bush and Curo, to name but a few have already made the pledge, and should be congratulated. Hopefully many more across the sector will show the leadership that is required to make the change.

To find out more about the Leadership2025 initiative, The Altair Review action plan or how to be part of the leadership index of champions for diversity, further details can be found at www.leadership2025.co.uk.

The Altair review

The review, (click here to download) commissioned by the Leadership 2025 Steering group, was undertaken by Altair during October and November 2017. It involved detailed research and interviews with past and current sector leaders form both BME and Non- BME backgrounds.

The review made a recommended five-point plan to facilitate a step change in ethnically diverse leadership across the housing sector:

  1. Report annually on key diversity statistics

Organisations should report on key diversity statistics in their annual reports, including BME representation at Executive and Board level, as well as drawing comparisons to the ethnic diversity of their tenants/residents and the communities that they serve.

These figures should cover the areas which associations feel will enable them to tackle any underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in their leadership teams. At the very least this might include pay-gap calculations based on race / ethnicity.

  1. Set aspirational targets

As per the CIH’s Leading Diversity by 2020 report, we recommend that organisations set aspirational targets for their board and committee recruitment from under-represented groups. This will help ensure that governance structures are representative of their wider communities. This approach should also be extended to include aspirational targets for executive teams and mid-tier management roles. Performance against these aspirational targets should be reported internally but also monitored and publicised.

  1. Interview more diverse pools of candidates

We recommend that organisations should adopt a policy of committing, wherever possible, to interviewing at least one BME candidate when recruiting to senior leadership positions to the board or executive. In instances where organisations do not adopt or comply with this policy they should explain why in their annual report. .

  1. Develop the leadership pipeline

We recommend that organisations actively develop their leadership pipeline, by placing an increased focus on developing talent of junior and middle-management BME individuals in their organisations. This will help with upskilling and retaining staff.

  1. Lead by example

We recommend that Chief executives and boards should take a pro-active and visible role in promoting, monitoring and endorsing all recommendations from the research. A sector wide culture shift will only occur if it is driven from the top.

This should include signing up to a leadership index of champions for diversity, who are empowered to commit their organisations to work to change the leadership profiles, including middle managers by 2025. These champions/ leaders within the sector should be drawn from all ethnic backgrounds and genders to help facilitate the sector-wide culture shift and they might be a key number of board members, a senior executive, or the chief executive themselves.”

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This article appeared in Inside Housing in May 2108