13 Feb 2023

The fear of offending

There are many plausible reasons why we’re not seeing diversity in the sector…could the fear of offending be one of them? Have we got to a point where the fear of not being politically correct has created stilted communication and a culture that makes racial diversity feel like tokenism?

In a sector that whose core purpose is to care, provide, and support this hypothesis makes sense and would explain the reducing racial diversity of our teams, our ability to attract talent and in turn communicate meaningfully with tenants and communities.

So, how do we fix it? I think we are facing two challenges: the room and getting people to step into the room. The responsibility for transforming these challenges cuts across housing organisations, recruiters working in the sector, and individuals embracing opportunities open to them.

Interestingly during the 30 (and a bit!) years of my career I have been all these things. There is one simple change we all must make to help resolve the issue – we need to own our own diversity. We should be our authentic, individual selves. We are all diverse in one way or another.

For the White people who are uncomfortable having conversations about race and have a fear of offending - get comfortable with the language. Keep on learning. You might get it wrong but people are unlikely to be offended if they know you are trying and coming from a genuine place.

You can do this by broadening your network to include more diversity. This can be as simple as following new people on social media, joining an EDI group, or following some EDI influencers. You have started already by reading this blog! Your expanded network will allow you to learn the language that is respectful and increase your confidence to be comfortable talking about diversity. The best example I can use to show learned language is that I introduce myself as Pamela, it would be odd and very unlikely that you called me Pam instead of Pamela straight after meeting me. Racial terms are the same. Listen and mirror.

For recruiters and headhunters it is vital they understand the need for diversity is an important agenda item for the housing sector which isn’t necessarily demonstrated by their clients’ stilted communication due to the fear of offending. To attract diverse talent headhunters and recruiters need to be committed to ensuring their tone and approach is sensitive to the needs of their clients and is authentic, relevant, and not tokenistic to the audience they are trying to engage. It is these agencies we need to be employing to find the housing professionals and leaders of the future.

For those of you from an ethnic minority that feel it is tokenism I say – go for it! The door to the opportunity is open, grab the chance to walk through it. You won’t get the role if you aren’t experienced or qualified for it. Apply. Shine. Make your diversity an asset. Don’t stop making a difference.

Some people are trail blazers, or in a phrase I love, they are the F.O.Ds - First. Only. Different - in the room. Yes, this can be difficult at times but being a F.O.D means you have insight no one else in the room has. That is important and valuable.

If being the F.O.D makes you uncomfortable be the person a F.O.D passes the baton to. Your representation and voice are vital in continuing the trail blazers legacy show the positive and essential difference diversity makes.

From my experience, the housing sector has provided great opportunities and continues to do so. I’ve definitely embraced being a F.O.D throughout my career. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. And at times I have had to dig deep. But then again, I can only talk about my experience #inmyshoes.

Most people begin by taking baby steps then, as your confidence develops, you find yourself following in the footsteps of giants, gaining assurance with every step. Everyone faces different challenges, at different times, where they will need to face the fear, dig deep, believe in their own confidence, and go for it to achieve. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

For the sake our tenants and communities we all need to embrace our individuality and diversity, to ensure our organisations are as diverse and representative as the communities we serve.

In my shoes blog

This blog was written as part of a series for Lara Oyedele’s 2023/23 CIH presidential campaign advocating the importance of racial diversity in the housing sector.

A key campaign objective is to amplify conversations and awareness by sharing a wide variety of lived experiences, #inmyshoes, to create a momentum where racial and ethnic diversity are consistently on the agenda to drive forward positive change.

Written by Pamela Leonce

Pamela has been working in the housing sector for over 30 years, for housing associations, as a recruiter, and a career coach. Pamela has also recently published her first book Getting the Job with Confidence.

In addition Pamela is the chair of Inquilab, a board member of Sovereign, and Local Space.