Thats not very discriminating, is it?

Thats not very discriminating
22 April 2005

The housing sector does a pretty cracking job of employing black and minority-ethnic staff.


Alex Coxon

With more than one in 10 workers (13%) coming from BME groups, according to Housing Corporation figures from 2003, they are better represented in the sector than in the population as a whole.

It’s a pity, then, that the figures don’t ring true when it come to housing’s top appointments.

As we reveal in our census of the 100 largest councils and registered social landlords in England, there are relatively few non-white directors or chief executives: just one, in fact, for councils, and only eight for RSLs – and four of them are the same person (see page 24).

Its effectiveness so far leaves a lot to be desired, but there is, at least, an initiative in place to encourage more women into the most senior housing roles: jobs that have, to date, been dominated by middle-aged white men. So why is there no equivalent to the Leadership 2010 programme for BME groups?

I know it’s contentious, but I would hazard a guess that a programme of this nature might actually be counterproductive. Think about it – the insight into the BME community and its housing needs that many BME staff possess was likely a reason they were hired for their jobs in the first place.

But couldn’t it be argued that by hiring in this way, councils and RSLs have run the risk of segregating the staff they’ve been trying so hard to include? Isn’t there a danger of them being pigeon-holed in one area of work that doesn’t allow them to demonstrate their wider skill sets – and thereby inadvertently reducing their chances for promotion to the highest ranks?

Indeed, many BME housing professionals contacted for the census said they strongly opposed positive discrimination, preferring that jobs should go to people on merit.

As our research shows, there are bodies out there to help potential BME leaders make their mark. Career Opportunities for Ethnic Minorities, for example, operates a mentoring scheme that teams up senior managers with BME housing workers, helping them to network and equip themselves better for more senior positions (see page 25). COFEM also offers a guide for organisations interested in developing their own secondment policies and potentially linking those secondments to other associations.

But surely what is really needed is a sector-wide appreciation that BME staff needn’t be taken on to deal with BME issues alone. A Leadership 2010-style programme for BME groups might only exacerbate the problem. After all, it hasn’t reached anywhere near its full potential for women – despite all the good intentions.

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