9 July 2020

Our commitment to combatting racism

Sandra Skeete BLM

Octavia condemns the murder of George Floyd and stands with all those who have since come together to bring about change and support the fight against racism. We support Black Lives Matter and welcome a constructive debate about race discrimination and its impact.  

Octavia operates in the heart of London, the most ethnically diverse city in the UK. Our head office and many of our 5000 properties are located in North Kensington, where many people from the Windrush generation settled on arrival to the UK. It was also the scene of the 1958 race riots and our 2009 documentary Grove Roots highlights the racism and injustice faced by Black people at the time. This documentary is one of four films produced by Octavia to highlight the experiences of Black people and their contribution to the fabric of London and the communities we serve.

We are committed to being an anti-racist organisation. Driven by our values of being respectful, responsive, reliable, and resourceful, and by our mission to provide homes, care and support for the common good. Tackling social injustice is fundamental to what we stand for. We will therefore play an active role in tackling racism and calling it out. We will use our influence and purchasing power to deliver change, leveraging social value for the benefit of our residents and communities. Best practise on race equality will be adopted across all our activities.

Our organisation is diverse, and our diversity is one of our many strengths. Half of our staff are from Black and Minority Ethnic communities. I am proud to have led the organisation as CEO since September last year, one of a handful of Black CEOs in the housing sector.  However, we are not complacent and recognise we have more to do. We need to open up pathways into leadership roles that address the glass ceiling for underrepresented staff including our Black colleagues. Also, our Board, though diverse, does not currently reflect the communities we serve. We are determined to address this as future opportunities arise on our Board and we are committed to taking action that ensures that talented individuals are able to progress their careers.

We recognise that racial equality will not be achieved by focusing solely on diversity. We will therefore place an equal focus on addressing equality and inclusion alongside diversity. This will include ensuring that our leadership, practices and procedures create an inclusive culture that evidences our stated policy commitments.

In the weeks since George Floyd’s death, we have encouraged an open dialogue within Octavia, so staff can speak about their experiences of racism and their thoughts and feelings on the events as they have unfolded. I have shared my own experiences and encouraged colleagues and managers to reach out to support those affected through these very difficult times. Staff have been invited to share directly and confidentially with me their experiences at Octavia both good and bad.

We will continue to create a safe environment for this ongoing dialogue to support colleagues with the trauma and range of emotions surfaced by these tragic events. Alongside this, we will seek to increase staff awareness and understanding of racism through our learning and development programme.

Our commitment to being anti-racist also encompasses our responsibilities as a landlord. We know that Octavia’s Black tenants are more likely to be living in overcrowded housing or to have been served a notice. We need to better understand the reasons for these disparities and take steps to address them. We also wish to fully understand the impact of recent events on the communities we serve to help shape our response. Supporting our communities to document and share their experiences, hopes and aspirations will be a priority, and we will work to raise awareness of the disparities that individual BME communities face in relation to housing.

Octavia’s Board has discussed the leadership role it wishes to play in order to ensure we are anti-racist. We have made some immediate commitments and will also be producing a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. This will include clear outcomes and targets and will guide our approach over the coming years, helping to improve accountability and transparency, and to build a supportive culture of respect and equality for all.

Commitments in response to Black Lives Matter

Increasing our awareness and understanding

 

  • Build the knowledge and capability of our leaders and allies to support our EDI ambitions
  • Create a learning hub providing resources that help increase knowledge and awareness of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI). Starting with the lived experiences of racism globally and in the UK
  • Engage with residents to understand any disparities relating to our service
  • Connect with external networks to share ideas and identify best practice on being anti-racist

 

Tackling inequality head on


  • Launch an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to support the development of our EDI strategy and lead on monitoring progress against the strategy to evidence our commitments

 

Supporting our BME colleagues


  • Support the establishment of a Black staff network to create a safe place for sharing and mutual support, as requested by staff. This group will sit alongside other affinity groups and feed into the EDI Task Force
  • Ensure our Wellbeing Project addresses our role in supporting staff to deal with trauma and the mental health effects of racism

 

Taking affirmative action


  • Develop a talent progression program to open up pathways to leadership roles to improve the representation of BME staff at leadership level
  • Increase the diversity of the Board to better reflect our communities

 

Amplifying voices within our communities


  • Amplify the voices of BME people in our communities
  • Follow up on the Grove Roots and Herstories films to promote the lived experience and positive contribution of Black people in our communities

 

Supporting our communities


  • Leverage social value from our suppliers, contractors and consultants to access opportunities for employment and training 
  • Fund, support, partner and amplify the voice of local charities and other non-profit organisations supporting BME people in our communities
  • Explore how our procurement activity can open up opportunities for black-led businesses