International Women’s Day: meet Savinder Bhamra
Sunday 8 March marks International Women’s Day; an annual opportunity to speak loud and clear about progressive change for good, for all. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual and focuses on creating a world that is both fair and enabled.
International Women’s Day reminds us that we can all actively make a change by challenging stereotypes and combating bias whether it’s at home, in the workplace, or out and about. Together, we can create a world that is equal for all.
Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Savinder Bhamra is focused on finding practical ways to make our organisation more inclusive, more diverse and, ultimately, more equal. It is only when those three things happen that “we may just be successful”, she says.
We spoke to Savi about her career, women in the workplace and a brighter future.
Can you tell us about your career so far?
I started out in housing many moons ago and I was bought in specifically to work around issues of racial harassment and domestic abuse. I worked with a housing association to deliver the first Asian women’s refuge and secured the first eviction based on racial harassment. This was a long time ago, so it was pretty cutting edge.
I later joined the Metropolitan Police as their Strategic Diversity Advisor. I worked on everything from stop and search and community tension to HR activities and professional standards.
After the Met I worked as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for a construction company and before coming to Radian Group I worked as a workplace inclusion consultant for Business in the Community.
Although they were very different organisations both the Met Police and the construction company shared similar issues in relation to underrepresentation of women at all levels especially in more senior roles
Do you think there is nervousness around talking about equality, diversity and inclusion?
Always! The narrative around EDI is constantly evolving. It was first about equality and compliance, then about organisations looking diverse, and then about leveraging that difference and promoting inclusion. Now it is about creating a sense of belonging so that everyone is appreciated and can bring their whole selves into work.
With so many concepts it’s no wonder people get confused and nervous about what they can and cannot say or do. Everyone needs to understand what role they have in implementing inclusion. For me it’s about enabling people to have those open and honest conversations about what inclusion means to them and what an organisation should really have in place for everyone to feel included.
What challenges do you think we face as a sector to become more inclusive?
For me there is always going to be challenge around under representation at all levels, but that’s a really easy statement to make. We need to understand what drives this under-representation.
There is a multiplicity of roles across the sector but I’m sure if you ask people they would only be able to state a few of these roles often influenced by the stereotypes portrayed in the media. In response, we need to ask ourselves what would make working in housing a career of choice; It’s about giving our role models a platform to speak about their journey, raising our profile in the minds of our customers to encourage people into the sector and having in place those inclusive behaviours and actions that enable people to remain. It’s also about having the right data in place to inform our actions and enable us to evidence return on investment of all the initiatives we put in place.
Do you think there is more action needed around making sure women feel confident at work to say, ‘I’m interested in progressing, can you support me’?
Definitely. In order to enable women to feel confident a cultural and behavioural change is required that needs to be about respect, valuing difference and making people’s views count, making sure people are heard. Which is why we speak about developing those leadership skills to support this change.
A culture change needs to be supported by policies and processes, especially ones designed to mitigate against the ‘family penalty’: the consequences of taking time away to be a principal carer. We can do this by advertising roles as open to agile and flexible working by default, which will make a positive difference for both women and men with family responsibilities.
The theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual so we will be asking our leaders to make pledges to support equality for women in the workplace.
What does success look like to you?
It’s not about us looking very different, it’s about us feeling very different. It’s about creating a sense of belonging for both our customers and our staff. It’s not just about being the best but being the best of the best. When we have achieved this then we just may be successful.
– Savinder Bhamra, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager
Read more about Savinder’s thoughts on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the housing sector here.