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What it’s like to start as a housing association’s diversity manager in the middle of a pandemic and Black Lives Matter

Jerome Williams recently became Sovereign’s equality, diversity and inclusion lead. He shares his thoughts on starting in the job

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Jerome Williams recently became @sovereignha’s equality, diversity and inclusion lead. He shares his thoughts on starting in the job #ukhousing

I recently joined Sovereign as the housing association’s equality, diversity and inclusion manager. I started my new job during the pandemic, which, naturally, was strange, but I was made to feel incredibly welcome from the word go, with colleagues getting in touch on Workplace (office Facebook) and by direct message to say hi and introduce themselves virtually. My working life was different from usual too, obviously, as my family were all at home with me as I got stuck in my office – aka my daughter’s bedroom!

“Not only does it reinforce the message to our employees, residents and stakeholders that we take diversity and inclusion seriously, it also gives everyone across the organisation a person that we can ask questions of and seek guidance from – namely me!”

Working from home gave me a glimpse into my children’s lives that I hadn’t had before, as I watched my nine-year-old twins interacting with their friends on Zoom calls. I’ve actually been eavesdropping quite regularly, listening in on their conversations – and enjoying the way that inside their safe bubble they remain largely innocent to the harsh realities of inequality.


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But there have been heart-breaking instances in the past in which I’ve had to explain to them why people do or say things that are not fair. Watching them talk on their calls has made me realise again how important it is to me to try to create that equal world that they – and we – all deserve. And I think the world is finally waking up to the need for that change.

I joined Sovereign at the very beginning of Pride Month, just as George Floyd’s death in the US sparked a renewed conversation about race and racism, challenging us all to go further and to improve our knowledge of these issues. The pandemic too has shone a light on a number of inequalities worldwide, particularly with regards to health.

“My ambition for Sovereign is to create a workforce that reflects society – and to build a workplace culture that supports diversity and inclusion”

I think my arrival at Sovereign – coinciding with these huge global changes – is a positive one. Not only does it reinforce the message to our employees, residents and stakeholders that we take diversity and inclusion seriously, it also gives everyone across the organisation a person that we can ask questions of and seek guidance from – namely me!

But I can’t do it alone – and already I’ve seen strong evidence that I don’t have to.

Actively supported by our executive board, we’re currently reshaping our diversity and inclusion strategy, and we’re being helped by our equality, diversity and inclusion forum. This fantastic group of people is made up of employees from across the business and is dedicated to helping us navigate our diversity journey.

My ambition for Sovereign is to create a workforce that reflects society – and to build a workplace culture that supports diversity and inclusion. It’s important to me that new and existing employees are able to bring their whole selves to work without fear. Sovereign wants to go further too, by showing leadership to the wider housing sector on this agenda and be considered the gold standard.

We all need to ask ourselves: what can I do to learn more? How can I take action to achieve equality? It’s very important that we are alive to these issues and that our employees and customers alike feel a part of that ambition.

Jerome Williams, equality, diversity and inclusion lead, Sovereign

 

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