G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards - Meet the winner - RISE (MTVH)

At the inaugural G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards on 11 May 2022, MTVH’s ethnicity colleague network group, RISE, walked away with the Racial Equality Action Group Award. We caught up with Violet Pugh and Anthony Were, both members of RISE, shortly after the ceremony to see how they were feeling.

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

Violet - "I work as a digital marketing manager for MTVH's shared ownership brand, SO Resi. We're at the forefront of digitising solutions, so that customers have a good experience of buying a home with us. It's all about customer experience and innovation.

Anthony - "My day job is as a development manager in our regeneration team. I focus on the planning and design of new affordable housing. This involves lots of feasibility assessments and it's about finding opportunities to improve the quality of housing in a community. We engage with existing residents on what's working and what isn't, and discuss how we can work with them to redevelop sites to make them more attractive and to deliver more affordable housing."

Congratulations on your award. How did it feel to hear RISE's name read out as the winner?

Violet - "It was a really surreal feeling, a real 'pinch me' moment, and it still hasn't sunk in. Staff network groups are super effective vehicles in any organisation and enable work around diversity and inclusion to be more impactful. These groups don't always get the recognition we deserve, so it was a really nice moment for the little bit we've done, and the difference we've made for colleagues and outside the organisation in our communities, to be recognised. It was a fantastic feeling, as lots of effort goes into what we do and we are passionate about making a difference."

Anthony - "I echo what Violet says; the work of staff network groups as volunteers can be quite arduous, with highs and lows, and periods where you are soul searching whether this is the right thing to do. The awards were a validation for lots of people and lots of work that has been done over years. Last week was a real moment in time to really appreciate the growth and the progress that has been made, but allowing people the space to recognise work needs to continue. Hopefully it can go beyond the awards and contribute to making work a place people want to be and shaping communities’ people want to live in."

Why do you think colleague support groups such as RISE are so important?

Anthony - "They provide the ability for like-minded people to come together to have a safe space to share lived experience and to focus on practical changes to things that are impacting people on a daily basis. It's also a chance to speak more broadly on initiatives and programmes, such as career development. The ability to consistently network is what separates them from day to day individual conversations, which allows people to deliver tangible outcomes together. The work of staff network groups, and all those who were nominated, is about collaboration, which is what we are about as a charitable sector.

Violet - "Staff network groups are super effective networks to support colleagues and assess approaches of organisations. It goes beyond hiring processes and is about continuing to make sure colleagues are seen, heard and valued. They have a huge role in creating a culture where people can be heard and seen, and to use the networks to influence the organisation."

When nominating RISE, colleagues mentioned that the group had done events in the community. Can you tell us more about this work?

Violet - "A big part of our ambitions is about supporting colleagues in the organisation, but we want to do more to support the communities we are working in too. RISE is working with our Empowering Futures team to do more with young people in community to volunteer our expertise. It's about raising the profile of colleagues and empowering people to achieve their ambitions by seeing people who look like them doing the jobs they may want to be doing. We worked with local schools to do some mock interviews, giving feedback on improvements, so they are better prepared."

Anthony - "Helping younger people goes back to the values system of staff networks, which is about helping people. Young people being aware of their agency helps to stimulate change and staff networks are there to drive positive change."

The G15 Ethnic Diversity Pledge came about two years ago following many different colleague network groups working together with UNIFY and the G15 to make the case for change. What's the key next step G15 members should be looking to take to build on the work done so far?

Anthony - "For me personally, I think that whilst the role and impact of staff network groups was celebrated at the awards, we need to think about how far can we formalise and professionalise their position in the organisation to give further credibility and legitimacy to drive change. They are run on a volunteer basis currently, so there is a risk of emotional burnout or people leaving for new jobs, so we don't want to be over reliant on volunteers really. It would be good to make them part of the fabric of organisations, which will allow for conversations to continue and for us to engage more people. Without this, it could be quite a corporate conversation, and we need to think how can we make it more local and colleague driven."

Violet - "Formalising the work we do would be welcome. It's not to say it's not taken seriously, but rather it's about making sure it is taken more seriously to help grow the member community. We need to ask questions about what is the support we are getting to help us do that and to ensure all colleagues know what the networks are and what's involved. Could involvement in networks be recognised in annual appraisals, for example? I do think we need to ask how sustainable the current structure is, and there is certainly room for improvement. Staff network groups are key to diversity and inclusion work in an organisation. The value networks offer isn't just about lived experience, we can help with solutions and practical change. I'd say the next step is to think more about how do we tap into that power and do so collectively across the G15."

Anthony - "Ultimately the work done has been built around engaging people in staff networks, but there is more to do to build trust around those who aren't part of such groups. Doing so means that people will be more likely to engage based on the collective acknowledgment there is more work to be done. This acknowledgement and comfort needs to start at senior and Board level.

You both spoke on the stage during the awards. What are your top tips for overcoming nerves when speaking in front of such a big audience?

Anthony - "That would suggest we did overcome the nerves! You just have to hide them until it's over. In all seriousness, if someone asks you to do public speaking always say yes, as it gets easier, eventually!"

Violet - "For my own experience, I think it was about being as prepared as you can. I knew the general outline, but without being too prescriptive to stick to the script, so I could bring my own personality into it. If you can practice in front of family, do it. My audience was in front of my dog and my husband!"

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

Violet - "It's currently in my flat, but it will be making it to the MTVH trophy cabinet soon."