G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards - Meet the winner - Irene Adeyinka

At the inaugural G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards on 11 May 2022, Peabody’s Irene Adeyinka walked away with the Supportive Colleague Award. We caught up with Irene to see how she was feeling.

Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do at Peabody?

"I am the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Peabody, which is a fairly new position. My focus has been to research and understand the culture and dynamic of the organisation and think about how we can do things better from an inclusivity lens. I work across all areas of Diversity and Inclusion, but our focus on racial equality is ensuring that it is relevant to our workforce and our customers. We need to look at what is happening in our organisations and what are the themes we should be focusing on.

"At Peabody, we want to create a workplace where people can bring their whole selves to work, which is achieved by an awareness of different cultures, races, and approaches. We are working to make sure everyone can have a safe space to talk about race. We do have diversity in the organisation, but the further up you go it reduces, which is why we are focused on increasing the diversity of our leadership. We are doing lots of work in collaboration across the organisation around recruitment practices and development for succession plans for colleagues. The great thing about housing is that it is so broad and you can have any career you want.”

Congratulations on your award. How did it feel to hear your name read out as the winner of the Supportive Colleague Award?

“I was really surprised. I was stood next to my manager, my sister and my brother-in-law, and when I heard the blurb being read out, I thought they sounded lovely and then they said Irene! All the air in the room went as I gasped! I do the job because I am passionate about it, and achieving social change and social justice, so it’s very fulfilling to be recognised and it also gives me the motivation to do more.”

Is there a particular colleague that has supported you in your career, and what did their support mean to you?

"There have been many people who have supported me, but I’ll mention two people in particular. Shaun Kennedy, my manager, is such an inclusive leader. He really lives that title. It's been a difficult two years and he has been so supportive every step of the way. When you are in a leadership position and listen to those below you, that is key, and Shaun does this and then actions what you say. We call ourselves ‘the dream team’ or ‘partners in crime’, as the synergy in our values means we get work done. Shaun listens and I know I am respected and given autonomy; if we disagree the respect is still there. I really feel like I have the freedom to be my authentic self.

"Ijay Onyechi, Assistant Director of New Homes & Quality, is a Peabody veteran. It means a lot to have a woman who looks like me and who is trying to do positive things in this space; she is the reason we have an EDI team. She is so encouraging and supportive, and could see what I was about before I could. She has encouraged me on the way and inspired me to be the same way. She's a pillar and someone to look up to. I would also like to express my gratitude to Moira Griffiths - Director of C&S Strategy & Business Development, who nominated me for the Award. Moira is a brilliant leader, an ally and sponsor of race equality work at Peabody."

When nominating you for this award, colleagues described you as 'a positive agent of change', and noted that you had organised listening sessions for front line colleagues. Can you tell us more about this work?

“That piece of work came following the murder of George Floyd and was an opportunity for all colleagues to come together. People needed the space to share their thoughts. Something like that is so hard hitting we need to give space to hear from colleagues, but then we need to think about actions that flow from it. The themes that came out of that session informed our EDI 3-year plan and the actions it contains. It was so much more meaningful and authentic as it is informed by colleagues and customers.

"We need to have difficult conversations and then it is about how you enact change. I feel we must do it in a way that recognises it is hard to talk about race and race inequality, but that we need to find a way not to avoid it."

What more do you think organisations can do to enable colleagues to support each other?

“Listen. We just need to listen. We jump on things when they are in the media, but are they relevant to the organisation? How we listen to staff needs to be different based on where they work - frontline, office, etc. One of our values is doing the right thing, which might mean you are not very popular, but it’s so important.”

Finally, can you tell us where the award is being displayed?

“It’s sitting in a dedicated cubby hole in my desk tidy, next to my book collection.”