BLOG: Optivo’s commitment to inclusion and diversity

By Joanne Stewart, Executive Director for People and Christianah Afeniforo, Projects and Support Manager at Optivo

  • 5 February 2021

When the world stood in shock at the death of George Floyd, we stood in solidarity with our black colleagues, residents and communities. What followed, sparked conversations around the world.

Being diverse and inclusive has long been on our agenda and one of Optivo’s key strategic objectives. And a big part of inclusion is uplifting voices of the minority; listening, learning and making change tangible. Our Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network Group led this with an open letter to all colleagues, sharing educational and support resources and regular open forums for colleagues. These forums allow colleagues to come together and share their concerns, experiences and any structural issues or barriers that need to be addressed.

In addition to this, our Chief Executive is upward mentored by the chair of the BAME group. This is extremely valuable in gaining broader insight of experiences, informing how we work and our inclusion and belonging agenda.

When we were working at our offices before the pandemic, we’d hold events from all of Optivo’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Network Groups to create opportunities for colleagues to speak openly, engage in dialogue and debate - which helps shape our inclusion work and increases awareness and understanding. This has continued through the period of lockdown by running events online. In October 2020 we ran 38 interactive sessions, including motivational speakers, author readings, musicians, dancers, comedians and chefs.

We’ve also a range of visible BAME role models within the organisation who share experiences through blogs and conversations.

We monitor and share our diversity data and use this to inform recruitment decisions and identify areas for action. This is not diversity by numbers, we use our data to proactively highlight gaps in our workforce. Our leaders regularly communicate their commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we have strategies in place to back up this commitment.

But we’re clear true diversity is more than a celebration of cultural difference. It’s action that’s data driven, and evidence based that effectively “widens the gate” and contributes to moving people of colour up the employment ladder.

We continue to support initiatives such as Leadership 2025 and the G15 Accelerate programme that address the imbalance of BAME professionals in leadership roles across the housing sector.

We’ve also used feedback from BAME colleagues from across Optivo about progression and any barriers they perceive to inform our recently launched Maximising Potential programme. This is aimed at contributing to further increasing the diversity of our managers.

At Optivo, inclusion and diversity isn’t a quota or a tick box exercise but a vital part of our culture. We live in a diverse world, we provide services to a diverse group of residents and we want our teams to reflect that. We’re unequivocal in our belief, inclusion and diversity are critical to our success and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.

Christianah Afeniforo, says: "Race may feel uncomfortable to talk about but it is so important. I am proud to be the Chair of the BAME Network Group at Optivo; it is something special here as its space in which we can start these conversations and more importantly keep them going. Equality in the workplace is really important and the door to the BAME group is always open. We’re here to be a support and share our experiences. Together we can achieve positive and lasting change."

This article was amended on 12 February to recognise both authors.