26 September, 2022

Inside Housing: Diversifying your board goes beyond appointments

The argument for tenant voice at a strategic level has been made many times. At Altair and Green Park, we see that recruitment of board members from an organisation’s tenant base can serve the need for diversity, alongside bringing lived experience of services to the boardroom. The social housing sector serves hugely diverse communities with an array of talented individuals who also offer lived experience of the sector. What matters most for a new board member is they bring curiosity, judgment, and the ability to identify and formulate a challenge or a question on their feet, supportively. These skills are not exclusively found outside of your customer groups, so it makes huge sense to see these communities as the place to seek promising board and committee members. 

We have witnessed the complex relationship the sector has with the role of tenant board members with organisational cultures ranging from enforced to embraced tenant board membership. Equally, we see there are tensions in the role for the tenant too. When done well, there is clear investment in an inclusive environment and, when it isn’t we see stigmatisation of tenants, a lack of understanding, inequitable relationships and a loss of any benefit.  

Ensure your diverse board recruitment is a success 

There will be individuals across your tenant and customer groups who may never have thought of joining a board and won’t engage when you go out to market for Non Executive Directors. So how can you encourage better engagement? Consider these tips for success; at every step check that you are being inclusive: 

  • Your ads must be inclusive and inviting 

Start by articulating a vision for why people would want to join you – you might be more exciting than you think! Consider the language you are using; is it macho, is it traditional, is it reading as exclusive? Messages and buy-in from board members and executive teams are key (through social media posts and videos for example). It works best when all the communications embrace the lived experience and diversity of the tenant base rather than just in selected posts.

  • Make sure you are clear about how a candidate will be successful

You also need to ensure your values are front and centre and keep the person specification broad. Making sure that adverts are written in a way so as to attract those who may not previously have considered being a board member and the criteria are clear as to what is actually expected makes it more likely that your efforts to reach a wider group will bear fruit. As will ensuring that aspiring board members understand the process, expectations and support available.

  • Support potential new board members through the process 

Successful programmes are multifaceted, person-centred and engaging. Organisations planning successful recruitment campaigns should use a variety of tactics such as clear messaging in communications, open days, shadowing, online help videos and 1-1 mentoring through the recruitment process and beyond.

To truly diversify the boardrooms of providers across the country, we must provide training and support for brand new board members after the fact too (actually this is relevant no matter what their past experience).

  • Make sure the board is clear on their responsibility for success

Pre-engagement of your existing board members is also vital for success, then during the recruitment, hold on to your mandate, and test candidates against your priorities. We recommend designating a member of the nominations committee as your accountability champion, so you don’t lose sight of your original vision. Or even an independent panel member to provide that. Don’t slip into deficit thinking, if you start out saying ‘we want people with fresh perspectives, currently active in the community’, don’t then shift to ‘not so much experience, never been on a board’ when then trying to make a decision or differentiate between candidates. 

  • Be brave and commit to it

Too often, board recruitment processes have relied on concepts that are outdated and discriminate against attracting, retaining, and getting the best from a diverse range of candidates. Associations need to be braver in having different voices around the table and challenging ‘the way we do things round here’. To ensure you attract and retain the very best and broadest talent (including your tenants), the culture of the board, the processes, the onboarding, and the training for new board members should be intentionally and authentically inclusive. If you would like to talk to us about some of the tools, we use to facilitate this, do get in touch. 


Written by Anne-Marie Bancroft, Principal Consultant, Consumer Regulation and Tenant Voice, Altair, and Jaimi Shanahan, Director, Green Park. To find out more about Green Park's ececutive search expertise, click here

Jaimi Shanahan

Written By

Jaimi Shanahan


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