G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards - Meet the winner – Notting Hill Genesis

At the inaugural G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards on 11 May 2022, Notting Hill Genesis walked away with the UNIFY Special Recognition Award.

We caught up with Kate Davies, NHG’s Chief Executive, and Vipul Thacker, NHG’s Group Director of Central Services, to find out what winning the award meant to them.

Congratulations on your special recognition award. How did it feel to hear Notting Hill Genesis’ name read out as the winner?

Kate: “Whilst we were pleased for the four winners that went before us, we had been disappointed that our colleagues hadn’t won. So when, at the end of the evening, this award was announced, we were really overwhelmed and it was a fantastic experience.”

Vipul: “Unexpected recognition of the work we have done in the sector, and to be nominated by UNIFY, led to so much enthusiasm and real energy.”

Kate: “It felt like recognition for a whole organisation’s effort. We had been focused on this for a couple of years. From top to bottom – Board, to Exec, to frontline colleagues, our colleague network group, and of course our residents – they were all part of it.”

How has Notting Hill Genesis changed following the measures and focus the organisation has introduced around equality, diversity, and inclusion?

Vipul: “Before the last 3 or 4 years, I always said EDI was in the DNA of the organisation. However, our focus started at merger – because we knew we had reflect the communities we serve across all levels. Previously, I think it was a line in a business plan, but it is now ingrained into everything we do. It shows residents we are better placed to understand their needs as we look like them, and means we can personalise services based on specific needs. And for our staff they know they can be themselves at work, where diversity is recognised, appreciated and celebrated.

Kate: “At the G15, I think we felt that the housing world that had previously been positive on diversity and introduced lots of initiatives, was going backwards. As someone with black people in my family, I felt that we were letting the people we loved down. So Geeta and I said we'd do something about this and that’s when Vipul, Jamie Ratcliff, and Ria Bailes came in to help drive the change. We didn't necessarily know all the answers, but we worked on it. We worked with CEOs to get their commitment, and progress has been made, especially at Board level. Delivery is everything, words are cheap, and delivery is hard, but it’s the only thing that makes a difference.

“Black Lives Matter happened and that put us up another gear. Initially I think the executive felt we were doing a lot. But our colleagues were disappointed with our efforts, and after a lot of quite challenging conversations we listening and agreed to make the changes. A lot has changed on policy, progression, recruitment, learning and development. We now have 40% minority ethnic people on our Board and 35% as part of our Exec, but our target is now 50%. Board buy-in was thorough and genuine. You can tell when people really mean it and when they have been on a journey. The G15 commitment was an important start, but our emotional connection with people and their lived experience has changed our organisation.”

Is there a particular initiative or moment that you think was especially critical in helping achieve progress?

Vipul: “Black Lives Matter led to a big conversation, built on lots of small conversations. People were encouraged to speak about their experiences and that brought in the sense people can have courageous conversations. Our Stop the Clock Conference came about as we felt we needed to literally stop the organisation for a day, to re-set. We stopped and reflected on what we were doing. The conference was 6 hours long, on-line and during COVID times, and I was nervous that people would be tired, but it went so quickly with comments flying in and they were fantastic. That was the time when the organisation said we wanted change.”

Kate: “The response to Black Lives Matter was driven by our young black staff who were less involved in the formal networks; they were fed up and angry. Parris, our colleague, compered the event and she played a difficult role between the corporate organisation and colleagues, but did an amazing job. In truth, whilst 60% of our colleagues are minority ethnic people, I was concerned about how white colleagues would react. However, it was wonderful; they wanted to become allies and active anti-racists. Everybody got the message that you are listened to here and action is being taken. For our overall culture, it helped everybody to see that we were genuine, with authentic leadership that welcomes feedback and is alive to realities of racism today.”

In the recently published G15 Ethnic Diversity Pledge - 2022 Report, NHG's ‘Race at Work Action Plan’ was highlighted as having led to a significant increase in executive and non-executive Board membership for minority ethnic people. To further ensure the organisation is held accountable to its diversity commitment, a board member has been appointed as diversity champion to ensure diversity is always on the agenda. Can you tell us more about this work?

Kate: “It has to be led at Board level. If they aren’t brought in it's not going to work. Our Chair is a white man in his 60s and he really believes it. Ian Ellis, our Chair, through his experience of working with us has been on a journey and has led him to set the 50%, not 40%, Board member target. Our diversity champion is a middle-class white guy, but Alex is very smart and committed and has worked with Parris to check progress.”

What's next for Notting Hill Genesis on its journey to be a more diverse and inclusive organisation?

Kate: “Since the big conversation, we gathered what we heard and made it into our race at work programme, which saw us mainstream it and not have it as a separate area. We now have a lot of black people at top table. If we have this, the chances are we won't make the same mistakes an all-white team would make. We need to make more progress on the pipeline of people coming through. We need to carry on our focus on listening and empathising.”

Vipul: “It’s great to achieve what we have achieved, but there is recognition that we need to do more. We’ve started looking at the next level – Directors and heads of service - and particular directorates, some of which traditionally attract minority ethnic people and some that don’t. We are looking at the gap and what we can do to attract the right people. We have a small graduate scheme that had 4 black students working in technical departments – assets and building safety - and we’re working looking at leavers and new joiners to see if there are any trends. We’re also running special groups and targeted mentoring to help prepare colleagues to develop their careers and bring them up to leadership levels.”

Kate: “We’re also using our commitment to diversity and our record of progress as part of our unique selling point as an employer. Offering people real opportunities gives us a competitive advantage and the young minority ethnic talent joining us is overwhelming.”

Finally, where is the trophy now?

Kate: “It's in my office and will be displayed in the main reception soon.”