Interview with L&Q

EiDA16 Winner

Diverse Company Award for Housing Sector

With over 1,600 staff, L&Q is one of the UK’s largest housing associations and a leading residential developer in London. It works explicitly to include contributions from all diversity strands within the organisation. Thirty-four per cent of its workforce, and 28% of its people managers, are from a black or minority ethnic community – both up 4% in the past year. The passion and dedication of L&Q’s staff has resulted in the organisation being featured in the Stonewall top 100 employers in 2015/16, ranking five places higher this year than last. Externally, through the L&Q Foundation, L&Q supports its diverse customer base too. It runs various projects to tackle disadvantage among local communities across all strands of diversity. These include Women in Governance and the Osiris Project.

We spoke with Bhavin Patel after they attended The Excellence in Diversity Awards 2016 on behalf of L&Q and won The Diverse Company Award for Housing! Here is what he had to say…

What were your thoughts when you found out L&Q won The Diverse Company Award for Housing?

I think initially I was shocked, I feel just being nominated was an honour as it meant that the work that we do is having a positive impact. When we found out we were shortlisted and that there were people out there that agreed we work we are doing is helping, it felt like we were doing something right.

Getting that recognition from an external company was a measure of our work. People who work within Diversity, Equality & Inclusion always have that element of passion; it’s not just a job. Having the recognition makes you feel like you’re doing a good job. It’s a pat on the back even though that’s not what we do it for.

I was also so relieved because I submitted and completed the nomination and I’d never done it before so it was difficult to know what to write but It was a great feeling when we won!

The award shows were heading in the right direction. Taking the time to reflect on what we have achieved, looking at all the facts and figures, makes you proud.

We want to remind our staff – and show people who are thinking of joining us – that you don’t have to look or sound a certain way to get on here. We want our people to be themselves and feel comfortable talking about who they are. That is because we know that if you can be true to yourself at work, you are likely to be more motivated and more productive. You are also more likely to stay with us. In simple business terms, that makes great sense.

And this award shows that. I was honoured, proud and felt a real sense of achievement.

How did you feel about the other shortlisted nominees within your category?

When the shortlist was announced I read what EiDA said about each company. You can clearly see how committed these companies are to Diversity and Inclusion. How inspiring was it to see companies from the housing sector that are of different sizes and based all over the country, united in the same passion, drive and determination.

Excellence in Diversity Awards 2016

Excellence in Diversity Awards 2016

After winning the award, what are the next steps in term of diversity for L&Q?

Our objectives are set to ensure that our approach to Equality and Diversity supports our mission to create places where people want to live.

It is vital that the senior people in L&Q take equality and diversity issues seriously and continue to be mindful of the need for diversity in the talent pipeline. Equality and diversity are already included in business planning; this needs to continue both at the top and locally.

We are proposing the introduction of a Diversity Champion at Board level to ensure equality and good diversity practice are promoted and challenged at the highest level in L&Q. The Diversity Champion will work alongside the Chief Executive, David Montague, who is passionate about diversity and is the current most senior Diversity Champion.  We are also planning to support the current Engagement Champions to enable them to consider Diversity issues as they go about their EC duties. We have seen the correlation between engagement and older people in the workforce as well as the lower engagement scores from people declaring they had a disability. We will continue to explore and deal with these issues as they arise.

We aim to be an appealing Employment Brand which positions L&Q as an employer of choice in the marketplace and tells people internally and externally what it means to work for L&Q, this is where a diverse workforce is essential to attract future talent and keep it.

Bespoke entry level talent schemes, specifically for those areas that are either difficult to recruit to or where we anticipate a skills shortage. We will build relationships with schools, colleges and universities to enable greater awareness of our talent programmes and we will target underrepresented groups to ensure our workforce continues to reflect the communities that we serve. 

We need to ensure we maintain and where necessary develop our strategies, policies and procedures. Being clear on where we are and what we want to achieve. Things like ensuring our working arrangements are more flexible across L&Q.

We need to continue to check how we are doing with the help of external organisations. We have worked with Investors in People for the past 20 years and currently rank gold. We have been a Great Places to Work company for ten years, and we now have a special Master’s award. In 2015, for the first time, Stonewall ranked us as one of the top 100 companies in England.

We understand the vital importance to the organisation, our staff and our residents of the collection and subsequent analysis of monitoring data to inform our policies and practices.  We believe that the monitoring and analysis we carry out could be extended to help us plan and achieve improved outcomes in recruitment and reputation. 

It’s important here to recognise that some staff and prospective staff are unclear why we collect the data that we do.  We will commit to explain why we collect such data and what we do with it. We need to continue our monitoring, performance monitoring and maintain our growth and positions in these rankings to ensure L&Q is progressive and inclusive.

At L&Q we believe that it is important that residents can make their views known about our services, so that our services best meet their needs. We want a wide variety of residents to be involved, so that their views, opinions and comments are representative of our resident population as a whole. We will explore ways we can encourage a more diverse representation in our existing resident involvement mechanisms and explore new consultation methods to engage with underrepresented groups, for example social media to target younger residents.

L&Q’s E&D Strategy contributes to our vision and is underpinned by our Values and our stated commitment to equality and diversity. We are also committed to ensuring that our Strategy and supporting action plan are ‘living’ documents that are aligned with our corporate objectives. Although specific actions are named as the responsibility of HR and L&D, the effectiveness of the Strategy requires every individual in L&Q to demonstrate their commitment to equality and diversity through their communications and behaviours and therefore this Strategy and plan is focussed on the practical, day to day issues for us. 

What impact do you think your diversity work is having?

Diversity is one of our core values. We found that wasn’t enough to bring it to life for staff. But enlisting our Chief Executive as our most senior champion on diversity issues made a difference. By talking about the issues, he has sent a clear message about the kind of company we are.

We embrace our diversity. We think that everyone has a role to challenge and contribute. Our differences help us to provide a better service to our customers. They enable us to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes – our differences reflect theirs.

Five years ago we could see that the profile of our staff didn’t necessarily reflect that of our customers. In addition, we knew that a more diverse workforce brings business benefits, in terms of higher morale and productivity, increased retention rates and lower recruitment costs.

Gender inequality was an area of particular concern. So we set about recruiting a more diverse board and supporting our female staff into more senior positions. We launched a programme called Aspire to offer intensive coaching and mentoring and promoted networking through our women’s group. We’re now seeing the benefits of that work. Last year, 42% of management appointments were to women, an increase of 23%.

Our proportion of black and minority ethnic staff is also up, at 34%, and higher than the G15 average.

Introducing agile working has made it easier for parents to progress at work while managing their family commitments, as staff can work from local offices, reducing travelling time. Giving more flexibility for example may help working parents

Training is important. All new starters undertake training on equality and diversity, we also train our people managers with extra training on how to address potential barriers to diversity and inclusion. 

Each year we also hold a Diversity Week, to focus our people’s minds on the issues as well as celebrating and embracing our Diversity. Last year, for example, staff heard how we could adapt our processes to better suit trans people. A class of deaf school children also taught our construction site workers some key phrases in sign language. We held bring and share lunches where our staff shared with their colleagues their home cooked foods. Food was a great way of engaging staff to participate in the week.

Reaching beyond our staff, we have aimed to support diversity and inclusion in our supply chain and in the communities we serve. In recent years, for instance, the L&Q Foundation has funded projects to help women to take part in local democracy and business. This summer, with Stonewall and ten London football clubs, we’ll tackle homophobia by training the thousands of young people on our holiday activities programme – and giving them rainbow shoelaces.

But we haven’t taken on a Diversity and Inclusion Manager to achieve any of this. All of it has been accomplished thanks to the dedication of our HR team and a network of interested people across the business.

It all goes to show that harnessing people’s passion about diversity can bring tangible results.

Of course, accolades such as the Excellence in Diversity and Stonewall top 100 award help too.

What was the reaction from fellow colleagues when you took the award back?

Our CEO, David Montague said to me that he is proud of what we have achieved. It was said at the ceremony that companies the ‘get it’ are companies that have a champion at a senior level. We really do have a champion in David along with all of our Executive Group and Group Board.

Group Director of Human Resources Tom Nicholls said “This award is recognition of our hard work to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of what we do”. “We haven’t got everything exactly right yet but we know we are on the right track – and this award confirms how far we have come. I am delighted.”

The messages of congratulations have rolled in since that night, from my team to colleagues I only know by name. Though I must say that this award is because of all of our staffs hard work, all those who have celebrated and embraced Diversity and inclusion. All of those staff who lived our values. That is what makes me most proud.

What were your thoughts on the awards? Did you enjoy the night?

You can really see the passion, the passion of all the staff at EiDA, the passion of all the shortlisted nominees. Attending the awards ceremony really inspired me to continue doing what we do.

An amazing evening and night that was inspiring and reinforced why we do what we do. It was a pleasure to meet the EiDA team, who really went out of there way to ensure we were alright. Working with so many passionate and inspiring people makes our job / mission that much easier. This passion is clearly evidenced by the EiDA team.

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