Black’s Blog: Is Scotland’s housing sector racially diverse?

Black's Blog: Is Scotland's housing sector racially diverse?

Is it fair to say the housing sector workforce is predominantly white? Old white middle-class man Jimmy Black reflects on issues raised by the latest episode of the Scottish Housing News Podcast.

Human Resources and Housing Departments have a lot in common. They both operate systems designed to produce fairness in house letting and employment, respectively. Yet both somehow fail.

Lara Oyedele, President of the Chartered Institute of Housing, notes that people who look like her struggle to rise above the lower levels of management. Data scientist Fash Fasoro, promoter of the Black Talent Summit, agrees, citing his own previous experience as a Housing Officer.

Both spoke to my co-host, Kieran Findlay, and me, in a wide-ranging interview for the SHN Podcast. They were joined by Callum Chomzcuk of CIH Scotland who has been running initiatives to spread awareness of potential discrimination throughout the sector.

As for house letting, Scottish Government statistics suggest that ethnic minorities have higher levels of overcrowding and homelessness. Most are less likely to be in social renting, and perceived discrimination prevents some from even applying for housing. Find out more in Housing needs of minority ethnic groups: evidence review.

Lara says that black job seekers look at the websites of housing associations and see pictures of people who don’t look like them. That’s not encouraging. Others who might join management boards see photos of, mostly, old white men. That puts them off.

Then there’s what Lara calls “conscious bias”. Conscious or unconscious, she believes managers give jobs to people they feel comfortable with, who look, or sound like them or come from similar backgrounds. That’s hardly news; human resources departments come up with all sorts of schemes to prevent this from happening, but it still happens all the same.

Fash Fasoro runs an agency called Datakirk, which among other courses offers DataKirk BounzBlack. This helps disadvantaged young Black people in Edinburgh acquire data skills which will help them achieve the NPA in Data Science at SCQF level 4 and go on to work in statistics, computing and other fields. Fash says there is a pool of talent that housing organisations are not finding, and he’s willing to help.

Being a 64-year-old white straight middle-class man, I guess I’ve had it my own way most of my life, and I can’t really complain. Sometimes I think about applying for public appointments and generally find that “Scottish Ministers particularly welcome applications from women, disabled people, LGBTI+ people, people from ethnic minority communities and people aged under 50.”

I know, it’s not the same, I started from a position of privilege (ie a good state education), but it does give me a tiny insight into how it must feel to be unwanted for reasons unrelated to my ability.

Alongside her campaign against discrimination, Lara is supporting a crowdfunder for children who have no shoes. As well as taking donations, she will also take actual shoes, decent ones, of course. Long ago in Scotland, we had a charity called Bootless Bairns which did its job and disappeared when times improved. Now it seems we have Shoe Aid.

It’s a tragedy that children are going without shoes again. If you want to support Lara’s crowdfunder, here’s the link.

All episodes of the Scottish Housing News Podcast are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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