Diversity is power
CIH’s head of membership, Rebecca Clarke, reflects on 2020, the perceptions she has had challenged, and what more we can be doing as a sector to champion diversity and equality.
2020 has been difficult. So difficult in fact that it’s hard to believe we’re only in July. Before this year, I was quite content (or so I thought) in just going about my business, paving my way in life. However, it’s clear that 2020 has challenged the way we live our lives in so many ways, but more fundamentally, has also challenged the way we see other people.
Decades of discrimination and prejudice have recently come to a head, and people are now being more vocal than ever before in wanting equality. If you look at the pandemic alone, we have seen that discrimination still exists, with people from minority communities being so much more adversely affected by the virus. Yet when this gets mentioned, people will often look for excuses. Many thousands of people around the world are paying the ultimate price for being in a minority community. That all too often means living in poorer areas, receiving lower incomes, and ultimately, having fewer prospects. This is the extreme price to pay for these decades of built up discrimination.
The last few weeks have also been met with horrific scenes from around the world. From the killing of George Floyd to the murders of three gay men in a park in Reading. These are the events we have seen and heard about, but this is happening every single day across the world, to real people, to the people we work with, the people that live in our homes, to our nearest and dearest.
We need to do more to show our support.
For me, up until very recently, I didn’t really think about discrimination much at all, but looking more closely, the events of recent weeks has made me see that I probably didn’t understand something I thought I did. This year has triggered something inside of me. I would all too often brush off comments made to me about my sexuality – the fact I look a certain way and do certain things. Earlier this year I was playing football – something I love to do – when a group of young lads stood behind the goal and hurled abuse at me, for what turned out to be a very long second half! I have always been brought up to be resilient, words can never hurt you and all that, right? It wasn’t until afterwards, when I took the time to reflect, that I wondered what would happen to someone who couldn’t take it, and actually, why should I have to take it?
Anyway, one angry post-match tweet later and I was inundated with support and love mainly from fellow housing professionals but also from complete strangers. I felt grateful and again thought to myself, what happens to the people who don’t feel they have this? How do we create safe spaces for people to share, to be honest and get the emotional support that everyone needs?
I never really wanted to talk about being gay. I believed that I shouldn’t have to, because it shouldn’t be important. I always tried hard to ‘fit in’. But, the last few months have taught me that this is important and something that should be celebrated. If you don’t stand up for yourself, if you are not proud in showing who you are, how can we ever expect people to understand? Diversity is power. We as organisations need to do more to embrace this, to raise awareness amongst our employees, to be there for our tenants. Having greater diversity across all levels of the sector will help us to grow, to be more successful, but most importantly, do what we all founded to do: to be there for the public good.
I feel blessed to work in a sector that has so many fantastic role models for me, both men and women who pioneered and paved the way for me to believe that as a young gay woman, I too could be like them one day. The events of the last few months have inspired me to do more, to try harder. All of those people who have provided me with hope, fuelled my ambition – and now I want to do that for others.
It’s time to make change happen. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that life is fragile and we as humankind have huge power to come together, be there for one another and change things for the better. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown that there is hope, that people believe in something better. We have to keep this spirit alive. As a sector we should stay true to our social purpose and be a force for good in the world – being the change we want to see.
We must not dwell on past failed attempts to make this better, we must learn from those experiences, listen to the people involved and keep being determined in striving for change. As Maya Angelou once said, “try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud”, bring the hope, bring the change.
Rebecca currently co-chairs our internal equality, diversity and inclusion employee group that was recently revamped in light of recent events to further work that was already underway. Externally, CIH will be working with a newly formed member steering group, made up of professionals from across the sector, that will help us become a more representative and effective professional body for all. We will be publishing more on this in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you would like to know more, then please do get in touch with Rebecca.