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23 October 2020

When it comes to unconscious discrimination, we have been complacent

When it comes to unconscious discrimination, we have been complacent

After the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has thrown a spotlight like never before on the racial inequality and violence that blights our society. It is right that those issues are scrutinised and addressed but it should not have taken global protests for that to happen.

It is no longer enough to not be overtly racist, it is incumbent on us to be actively anti-racist. To this point, we have failed and things have to change.

At Community Housing Cymru (CHC), we have not done enough to address unconscious discrimination in our processes, language, and the culture of our organisation. We have been complacent. As an organisation our mission is “to enable housing associations in Wales to be brilliant” but we will fail in that mission if we do not fully embrace the diversity of Wales and the experiences of all those who consider this country their home.

We have reflected over the summer months, and in August we hosted a discussion centred on how the housing association sector in Wales could respond to the Black Lives Matter movement. We asked the sector a simple question: “How do we make this moment different?”. The question needed to be asked because, to be frank, the housing sector across not just Wales but the whole of the UK does not have a good record at addressing racial injustice and inequality.

What became clear at that event is that every single housing association in Wales is committed to taking action to address racial inequality and discrimination. Many of our members have signed Tai Pawb’s ‘Deeds not Words’ pledge, which commits them to deliver on a series of actions over the next five years, while others have adopted their own strategies and action plans.

As an organisation, we have our own plan for the coming months. We will sign ‘Deeds not Words’, signaling our commitment to take action and enabling us to work alongside Tai Pawb and our members who have signed the pledge, as well as those who have adopted their own strategies, to ensure that this moment counts. As the organisation which represents housing associations in Wales and is involved in policy development and driving change, we will also adopt an action plan that reflects the needs and nature of our business.

While we have already taken some steps to change our practices, including during our recent board recruitment exercise, we need to go much further. We must ensure that all facets of our operations do not perpetuate and promote structural inequality and racial discrimination - from our conferences, events and training programme; our recruitment, staff training, and development; to the way we work with our members and others to develop and influence housing policy and legislation.

In the very short term, we hope that you will notice that our conferences and events will look and feel more diverse, and our Board will give a truer representation of the people who live in Wales. But this is just the start for us.

We have established a working group to look at all of these issues and thoroughly review our policy and practices. As well as representation from our staff team and board, we are seeking to work with others both from within our membership and outside, to help us get the actions we will take right. This group will bring together ideas for change and challenge the leadership of the organisation on these issues, and be responsible for defining the parameters of success.

Of course, any action we take needs to be measurable and we need to be held accountable as well – to our Board certainly, to our membership of course, but also externally, and we will seek the best way to accomplish that aim.

We plan to take a comprehensive strategy and action plan to our Board in January and implement change as quickly as possible. Some things will take time but changes to the way we work can happen much more quickly.

We won’t get everything right. We will almost certainly make mistakes. But we will listen, we will learn, and we are committed to change.