Beyond brick and mortar, the housing sector is recognising that the path to a brighter future is paved with the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). This understanding is key to the work done by Ami Davis, Strategic Organisation Capability Director at Magna Housing Ltd, who has worked tirelessly to drive her organisation towards an inclusive, positive future.
Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Ami to discuss topics ranging from the importance of inclusion and belonging to the traits necessary to succeed in people leadership.
My day job is with Magna Housing, a housing association based in Devon, Somerset, and Dorset. We’re a mid-sized organisation with a complete range of customers and property types. In my spare time, I also chair Andrews Charitable Trust, which seeks to alleviate housing-related poverty. Outside of work, I live between Bristol and London, and I’m a kinship carer for my nephews and niece since their mother passed away. I’d never had children before, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve.
I began my career in HR, working for Rolls Royce in Bristol. Back then, I thought I’d spend my whole career in HR. From there, I moved to Sky Television, where I moved into operations for the first time. I managed a region of Sky engineers that eventually became its own department of over 600 people. That inevitably took me on a journey of transformation, and I became Head of Change at Sky. I’ve held some unusual job titles — ‘Head of Know-How’ comes to mind — but above all, I’ve focused on communications, training, and knowledge management. At Sky, I also had the opportunity to work globally, collaborating with colleagues in India, Bulgaria, and Northern Ireland. Eventually, I decided I wanted to do something with more social impact, which brought me to the National Trust. Through my experience in the charity sector, I realised my real purpose was in housing, which led me to join Magna in March 2021.
When I arrived at Magna, I quickly realised the organisation hadn’t focused on EDI or culture for quite some time. We didn’t necessarily have the capability and organisation to know where to start. One thing I’ve learned in my experience with EDI is that sometimes you need to ask for support. So we partnered with Green Park, an organisation that specialises in EDI, who helped us to carry out a cultural diagnostic. It’s important to understand what matters to the people in your organisation and start where you are instead of where you want to be. Starting from the point of inclusion is really key: people need to feel like they are part of something if you want them to come along with you. It certainly takes time, but it’s worth it as long as you’re making progress. Finally, it’s crucial to have red lines: you need to make clear what won’t accept. Otherwise, people can’t trust that you will have their backs if they raise an issue or a complaint.
There are two elements to that. First, we created a campaign around inclusion to galvanise our efforts and signpost that we really meant business. Inclusion doesn’t just happen through osmosis: you have to invest time and money to make sure it filters throughout the organisation. For us, the best way was to use our existing project management frameworks. It’s important to go where the energy is in the business: if someone is passionate about a particular cause, allow them to lead and move it forward. For example, some of our colleagues felt strongly that we needed to do more about menopause, so we now have an external speaker who comes in to run sessions. It needs to come from the bottom up, but it’s pivotal that the leadership backs it.
You need to let go of expectations. Personally, it’s a lesson I’ve learned through being a carer. My niece has ADHD and autism, and I went and read a load of books to try and learn about that. But just when I thought I was beginning to understand, I realised I had so much more to learn. It taught me that you can’t have the live experiences of everyone — you only have your own. So you need to accept that you can’t always be the expert and that you have to listen to people around you. As a leader, it’s vital to create psychologically safe spaces so that people feel free to share their ideas without fear. Finally, you need to know where your boundaries are. There’s a lot of emotional labour that goes into this work, so you need to understand what you can and can’t handle.
It comes back to what I was saying before — you don’t need to be the expert. It’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay not to know everything, it’s okay to change your mind. You can listen to people with that lived experience and encourage others to find their voice.
In the housing sector, we’re less focused on commercial factors and more on the quality of service we provide. That includes customer service, the services we provide to tenants, and investing in new homes. To achieve that, you need people who are thriving and working at their best. There are 430 of us delivering services to 20,000 customers, so everybody counts. Wellbeing, training, and investing in colleagues can make the difference between an average housing association and a great one.
Know the value of knowing your value. I read that in a poem by Cleo Wade, and it really resonated with me. If you know your value, not only do you understand your weaknesses, but it helps you to stay true to your authentic self. That understanding has made me more resilient, more open to feedback, and more confident in myself.