Workplace Leaders
MHS Homes
Director for Customer and Transformation

Amy Cheswick

When it comes to building inclusive work environments, it can be hard to get employees engaged. In order to achieve this, business leaders are increasingly finding it’s important to show colleagues that you really care about what works for them and that their voice has been heard.

Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Amy Cheswick, the Director for Customer and Transformation at MHS Homes, a housing charity and social housing provider based in Kent, to discuss her journey in the industry, the critical steps to embed inclusivity within an organisation, and the qualities that make effective people leaders. 

Amy's Journey

Luke: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your organisation?

I'm Amy Cheswick, and I serve as the Director for Customer and Transformation at MHS Homes. MHS is a housing charity and social housing provider located in Kent, where we manage around 10,000 homes with various tenures, from market rent and homeownership to social rent and specialised supported housing. I joined MHS in January 2023, making me relatively new to the organisation. My role is a newly established one, and I'm responsible for overseeing our customer-facing teams, which include our customer contact centre and housing services. In addition to these functions, I also oversee our corporate teams, such as HR, ICT, and business transformation.

Luke: Can you share the journey that led you to your current position?

Like many in the social housing sector, I didn’t plan to work in social housing, starting as a temp worker at a housing association. At the time, I didn't even know what a housing association was, but I quickly fell in love with the work. The sense of purpose that comes with working in social housing resonated with me, and that's where my journey began. I progressed from a temp worker to a graduate trainee at a London-based housing association. During this period, I pursued postgraduate qualifications in housing and gained international experience.

When I returned to the UK, I was determined to stay in housing and continued to seek career progression. This journey led me to Raven Housing Trust, where I worked for a decade, starting as the Head of Housing and eventually becoming the Director of Customers and Partners. Subsequently, I joined MHS Homes, where I now lead customer-related teams and oversee corporate functions.

Luke: Now, shifting our focus to embedding inclusion and belonging within an organisation, could you share the most critical aspects of achieving this goal?

When it comes to embedding inclusion and belonging in an organisation, the first crucial step is understanding the needs of people within the organisation. Data plays a significant role in this process. You need to gather data to understand people's needs and priorities, particularly in terms of protected characteristics, for both customers and colleagues. This data helps organisations recognise where they may unintentionally exclude people and align their efforts accordingly.

Creating a safe space for individuals to express their needs is essential. It's crucial for building trust and fostering open communication. At MHS, we have undertaken specific initiatives to gain customer feedback and insight, particularly around the concept of a "Safe Space." We use this data to understand diverse needs and make necessary adjustments to services.

Moreover, it's important to take action and demonstrate your commitment. Organisations need to participate in events like Pride parades, support Black History Month, or organise lunch and learn sessions about topics like Neurodiversity. These activities show that you genuinely care about these issues. Inclusion and belonging should be integrated into the organisation's daily operations, ensuring that it becomes part of its culture.

Luke: With busy schedules and a fast-paced work environment, how do you ensure engagement across the entire organisation, especially when time is limited?

At MHS Homes, we value our "Enjoy Work" principle, which promotes a social work environment. We host a variety of activities that enable employees to come together in a social context. These include lunch and learn sessions, charitable fundraising, and a "Day for Kent" initiative where teams spend a day working for charities.

Our organisation embraces a culture of unity, where everyone is encouraged to pull together, particularly during times of crisis. Our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Task Force ensures that colleagues from various parts of the organisation participate in this journey. We consistently assess case studies to learn from both our successes and areas needing improvement.

In addition to these efforts, our staff conferences provide an opportunity to communicate our strategic plans, objectives, and performance updates. We keep communication open and transparent, ensuring that everyone is aware of what's going on. These measures create an environment where everyone feels connected and comfortable expressing their thoughts and questions.

Luke: Shifting to the role of people leaders, what traits or behaviours are exhibited by the most effective people leaders, particularly when it comes to bringing teams together and driving initiatives like EDI?

Effective people leaders share several common traits. They have a clear vision that inspires their teams and helps everyone understand the goals they are working toward. They are open, honest, and transparent — fostering trust within the organisation. Trust is built through their consistent actions and integrity. Effective leaders acknowledge their mistakes and show their willingness to learn from them, setting a positive example.

These leaders also understand the value of listening and respecting the talents and perspectives of their team members. They support the development of their team, nurturing their growth and potential. In essence, the best people leaders create a work environment where individuals can easily buy into the vision, feel valued, and operate with a sense of trust and belonging.

Luke: Lastly, what's the best piece of advice you've received during your career, and how has it influenced your journey?

The best piece of advice I've received is to "own my place at the table." This advice came from an interim manager I worked with, and it resonated with me because it helped me overcome the feeling of impostor syndrome. The simple yet powerful idea that I deserved to be where I was, that I had earned my seat at the table, boosted my confidence and self-belief. It's important to back yourself and believe that you have earned your place, and that's what I've carried with me throughout my career.

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