Workplace Leaders
Tai Calon Community Housing
Director of People and Culture

Elle Elliott

At the heart of social housing lies a commitment to community; as part of that, equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) can serve as a guiding force when supporting some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. Few understand this better than Elle Elliot, Director of People and Culture at Tai Calon Community Housing, the largest provider of housing in Blaenau Gwent, South Wales. 

Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, sat down with Elle to discuss her passion for social housing, the importance of clear organisational values, and the need to listen to employees actively and authentically. 

Elle's Journey

Max: Let’s kick off with a brief introduction to yourself and your organisation. 

I’m the Director of People and Culture at Tai Calon Community Housing. Working in social housing is a privilege, a passion, and highly rewarding, but it can also be very challenging; as we are working to support some of the most vulnerable people in society. Tai Calon is based in Blaenau Gwent in the South Wales valleys, which is one of the most socially and economically deprived areas in Wales. It’s a huge area, but it has a small population with a very close-knit community — you could fit everybody who lives here into the Principality Rugby Stadium. There’s a real breadth to social housing work, from tackling homelessness to building new homes. Our organisation is made up of people from all career paths, whether it’s housing, finance, community support, or the trades. We have 280 employees in total, with a third working in front-facing roles, another third made up of trade staff, and the remainder in support services. There’s a lot to keep us busy!

Max: What drove you to a career in human resources? And how have you kept yourself energised and motivated?

Most HR professionals I have met tell me that they fell into their careers, but for me, it was the complete opposite. I actively pursued a career in HR. I was drawn in by my fascination with the complex relationship between an organisation and its people. From a psychological point of view, one cannot exist without the other; an organisation is nothing without its people. The fundamental question is about how you can create an equilibrium between a successful organisation and the interests of the people who work for it. I started out as an HR generalist before specialising in organisational development, employee engagement, and wellbeing. It’s crucial to understand that the contract between the organisation and the employee is based on trust. People need to feel as though they matter and that they can contribute to the success of the organisation. It’s the holy grail of people management, but a lot of organisations haven’t managed to crack that yet. 

Max: What are the most important things to get right when building a sense of inclusion and belonging across an entire organisation?

We’re about two years into a large project called Belonging which encompasses all the key things people need from an organisation: to be themselves, to have and to give trust, to have autonomy, fair pay, and effective leadership. For me, it all comes down to having the right set of values. If your values align with what you are trying to achieve, then inclusion will become second nature. As an organisation, you need to articulate your vision, mission and values clearly and show people who you really are. That will help you attract and retain the right people you need for your business to thrive.

Max: What’s your approach to getting staff involved in EDI issues?

We’ve done so much work in this space. About 18 months ago we had a discussion with our colleagues about what EDI means for them. We found that if you get to the bottom of diversity and inclusion, it all boils down to belonging; people need to feel they belong before they can give their best. At Tai Calon, we’re trying to demystify EDI from the start. People shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, and we encourage our staff to be curious. We’ve changed the dialogue around EDI by asking staff about what belonging means to them. It’s important to empower people to speak out so they feel comfortable when having those difficult conversations. For example, a few months ago we had a great debate about white privilege, and we were able to have a civil conversation about a difficult subject which respected everybody’s lived experience.

Max: What’s the secret to ensuring that colleagues stay engaged with EDI on a long-term basis? 

It’s been challenging, but we’ve come a long way. When I first joined in 2020, we developed some new guidelines on workplace standards. It quickly became apparent that many people were completely disengaged with the word “EDI”, or were otherwise afraid to get involved. Some people were worried about saying the wrong thing or accidentally offending others. So since then, we’ve really taken the time to ask more questions of our colleagues to understand their concerns. Once a month, we hold a meeting called a pit-stop which allows our colleagues to ask questions and to have open conversations. If you label things, they can seem a little scary, so sometimes it’s helpful to approach from a different angle.

Max: Inertia is a hazard for any organisation. How do you encourage people to try new ideas and approaches?

It’s all part of the cycle of listening and communication, and building trust. If you ask a question of someone, you need to be absolutely authentic and make sure they feel heard. It’s not enough to just say you will do something: you actually need to follow it up. You really need to get to know your people to understand the makeup of your organisation: know who you can bring with you, and who will be more cautious. There will always be people who have a different perspective from you, and those can be the hardest people to reach. But if you spend your time on people who have that enthusiasm, they can then bring others along with them.

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career? 

Just after I left university, one of my lecturers told me “Be yourself, because nobody else is going to be.” I’m aware that I don’t always conform to the standard perception of an HR professional; I have been told I’m too kind, or I’m not detailed enough, or I need to be more policy-driven. I used to be very anxious about that, but over time, I feel like I have grown into myself and come to appreciate what makes me different - I am kind because I have empathy; I can be detailed, but I think more strategically and laterally; I respect policy, but we have to be people-led, not policy-led. I genuinely care about an organisation and its people. It goes back to the reason I chose this as a career - my drive is to make a difference to both the organisation and the people who work there, in a positive way.

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Max Webber
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