Diversity at Hanover Housing Association – How our Staff Networks Work

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Hanover Housing Association is an award winning provider of homes and related services designed exclusively for older people (55+).

We have almost 19,000 properties on more than 600 estates across England and over 860 staff working hard to make what we do a success.

We are very much a value’s-driven organisation. In April 2015 ‘Inclusive’ was added to the core set of behaviours that we seek to demonstrate in all that we do:

  • Honest
  • Connected
  • Positive
  • Courageous
  • Respectful
  • Inclusive

Our approach to being inclusive, which to us means valuing everyone for who they are and welcoming diversity, starts at the very top. It’s even a category in our Annual Staff Awards and in 2017 I was very proud to be named Hanover’s ‘Outstanding Inclusive Champion’.

Our Staff Networks are integral to the way that we work in this area – here’s the lowdown on how we do it:

Inclusivity Core Group

Our Inclusivity Core Group includes our Deputy Chief Executive and other senior staff representing HR, Service Development, and Housing & Support. As a group, we drive Hanover’s ambitious Equality & Diversity Strategy forward, ensuring that E&D is a red thread through everything that we do.

What we’ve learned – have a clear plan of action for your Network which supports your organisation’s overall strategy. Without this, your Network will quickly just become a talking shop, where members get bored or management don’t see value. Think about tangible initiatives your Network can contribute to – inputting into policy development, helping suggest ways to attract new staff from an under-represented group or raising awareness across the organisation of different types of discrimination.

Ensure that you have the support of senior staff within your organisation. They are your champions – they will get your Network that seat at the table which helps the great stuff on your plan get actioned.

Inclusive Ambassadors

Hanover’s Inclusive Ambassadors act as leaders and role models. They challenge behaviour that isn’t inclusive and support colleagues to do the same. They ask questions to check that diversity in its broadest sense is being recognised, understood and considered integral to the way we work and make decisions.

Our network of Inclusive Ambassadors also help to ensure that colleagues who may be dealing with challenging situations have access to clear, informed, sensitive support and signposting to expert resources where needed.

What we’ve learned – Staff Networks need to be promoted widely and regularly within your organisation. Your aim is to raise awareness among as many staff as possible. Not everyone you’re trying to reach will engage but your network tells a story – you’re reinforcing a positive workplace culture and you’re saying ‘this is what we stand for’.

When staff do engage, keep them close. Hanover is a dispersed organisation and we have a large number of front-line staff, so it’s not easy to get everyone together. However, by having monthly Skype for Business calls with our Inclusive Ambassadors we maintain momentum in between the 2-3 face-to-face meetings that we do hold each year.

BAME Network

I set up a new network for BAME staff at Hanover in October 2017 to coincide with Black History Month and the publication of the governments Racial Disparity Audit. With support from our Director of Property, Hanover’s most senior member of BAME staff, we wanted to explore what some of the issues raised in the audit meant for Hanover. To help us do this we invited BAME staff to take part in an anonymous survey. As well as our usual internal communication channels (intranet, e-bulletin etc), HR assisted by emailing the survey directly to all staff who identify as being from a BAME background.

At our first meeting, the Network reviewed Hanover’s ‘People Dashboard’. Published quarterly by our People Team, the dashboard includes a wide range of HR data which is made available to staff via our Intranet. The Network will be working closely with the People Team going forward, acting as a critical friend to try to understand what the data is telling us and where the Network may be able to provide insight and support.

What we’ve learned – ask questions and gather information. You need to know what the current situation is in your organisation so you can identify where your Network can add value. You can’t track your progress if you don’t know where you’re starting from. Remember – your achievements are your currency.

Some staff may not be comfortable sharing some types of information, even anonymously – of course, that’s their right. However, as long as you’re asking the right questions in the right way, remind staff that the more you understand them, the more you can do for them. I think Stonewall’s ‘Do Ask, Do Tell’ publication is a great guide on this.

Rainbow Network

Hanover is a Stonewall Diversity Champion and each year we take part in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. This year we climbed a fantastic 62 places and are very proud to now be ranked in the top 250 LGBT friendly employers in the UK.

Our Rainbow Network, which is open to all Hanover staff that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, has contributed significantly to our progress.

The Rainbow Network supports Hanover’s membership of HouseProud, a forum of nine housing associations covering London and the South East. Each year we take part in the Pride London parade (and other Pride events around the country) to demonstrate the housing sector’s commitment to supporting LGBT staff and residents. HouseProud also provide networking events – anyone who is LGBT and works in housing is welcome, even those who are not out at work.

Our Rainbow Network too has hosted social events for members and lunch’n’learn sessions with Stonewall, which all staff are welcome to attend. The Rainbow Network also has close links with ProActive, our group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual (LGBTA) residents.

This year, the Rainbow Network will be relaunching Hanover’s LGBT Allies programme which heterosexual staff can join to show support for their LGBT colleagues.

What we’ve learned – encourage your Network to get involved with campaigns and awareness raising initiatives which support your Network’s agenda. Aligning yourself with recognised and respected organisations gives your Network credibility, as well as access to a wide range of resources and networking opportunities.

If you are a customer facing organisation like us, don’t think of your Network just as a way to attract and retain staff. Staff Networks educate staff about minorities groups within our own customer base, helping them understand some of the additional challenges they face.

Disability Network

Hanover’s Disability Network is a new group which was launched around the same time as our BAME Network. Work is currently underway to attract new members!

What we’ve learned – although staff have been very positive about the Network we’ve found it hard to appoint a Chair or someone to lead the group. Sometimes people can feel nervous about taking on what they see as a huge responsibility and something which may take up a lot of their time. Divide up the work that needs to be done and give people different roles. If you have a large Network, you may even want to divide up into smaller sub groups and committees. Promote the benefits of being in a lead role – it’s a fantastic opportunity for personal development.

Staff Council Hanover’s Staff Council is an elected group of employees who meet regularly with members of our Executive Leadership Team to represent staff views, raise queries and ensure Hanover staff are informed and involved where it matters.
Staff Council work closely with our Network groups.

What we’ve learned – if your organisation has a Staff Council or similar, encourage your Network members to put themselves forward for election. Sometimes staff from minority groups, because of past experiences, may be apprehensive about putting themselves ‘out there’ for fear of rejection. However, it’s important that Staff Council’s are diverse and representative and the election process is a great opportunity for your Network member to promote what you do.

Networking together

As our Networks grow and develop, we are all looking forward to doing more together.

  • On Staff Networks Day this year, for example, we will be using our Intranet to host a live web chat over lunchtime. Staff will be invited to ask our Network members questions and find out more about what we do. We know that some staff don’t really understand why Networks are even needed. Hopefully, through the chat, we’ll be able to bring those staff abit closer to understanding what we’re about. And if we’re lucky, who knows, we might even get a few new members!

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