Industry Leaders
Elim Housing
Deputy CEO

Rachel Pinchin

All workplaces require leaders to foster a sense of inclusion, provide their people with the tools and support they need, and actively create a healthy community in order to both have a happy, motivated workforce, and to get the best out of them. This is perhaps doubly so when it comes to social housing, where the goal is to not only provide this for staff members but to do so for tenants as well, who are amongst society’s most vulnerable people and most in need of care and looking after.

Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Rachel Pinchin, Deputy CEO at Elim Housing, about how best to provide a sense of wellbeing and community to staff and tenants.

Rachel’s Journey

Luke: What was the journey that brought you to your current role?

I ended up falling into the housing sector. Just after university, I worked in the Senedd, the Welsh Parliament, and it was the constituency work I always found the most interesting. A lot of that work is based very much in communities and the issues that people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives with public services, housing, etc, so it started off that little spark. I moved into my first housing-related role in 2007 when I joined a private multi-disciplinary architecture and planning practice in London that has done some really interesting work on the regeneration of old London estates, making them improved spaces for the local community. In 2008, I moved into my first social housing role in Wales. Then I took a job here in Elim in 2012, focusing on communications and business development, and I have essentially grown within the organisation. Eleven years and four roles later, I’m now in my current position. That ability to grow within an organisation has been tremendous.

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

We’ve focused on this under the main pillars of our People and Culture Strategy. Our three core strands are around wellbeing, talent and skills, and inclusion. We want to have a team that really feels that they’re being looked after, that they have the right work-life balance, and that they are being supported to develop and perform at a level that feels right to them, so they can grow in their roles, and feel included. We want our colleagues to feel they’re able to have a real influence on every level.

Luke: How do you navigate getting a busy staff team to buy into Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) topics?

We’ve been so lucky over the last couple of years and our whole team has been so engaged. We got to that point by really putting culture first and foremost, starting off with listening to people’s stories and recognising that everyone has different individual experiences of EDI. Creating space for people to share their own experiences with colleagues, and then moving onto shared learning from that, so that, as an organisation, everyone has the same base understanding of these key principles. Then, putting your money where your mouth is, so you’re not just using EDI as a narrative but making practical differences to how you do things—for example, making improvements and taking obstacles out of your recruitment or flexibility processes. We’re also working to improve our own data so that we can make sure that our services really reflect our local community. We’re not all the way there yet, but it is really important.

Luke: What is the best way to embed a culture at an organisation that supports people’s learning and development?

I think first and foremost it’s the commitment to finding the time and resources for people at every level of the organisation to learn, and recognise that it’s just as important as the day job. We’ve started encouraging our Housing Officers to become professionally qualified and make that part of our offer to colleagues when they join the organisation, so it’s not just senior managers having opportunities to learn and develop. Secondly, for me, as a smaller organisation, we’re aware that we’re not going to be able to keep people forever. We recognise this, but for us it’s still important to give all our colleagues the same opportunities to give them those skills and help them grow so they can take them elsewhere. That way, we get the best out of them for the period of time we have them, and later, some other lucky organisation will reap the benefits as well.

Luke: What sort of traits, habits, and behaviours do the best people leaders exhibit?

I just heard an answer to this the other day which really resonated with me. It’s about grit, grace, and graft. The grit to apply enthusiasm and perseverance; it’s the day-to-day showing up and being enthusiastic about your end result. The grace to be empathetic, relate to other people, and be generally caring about your colleagues and your customers. And the graft is the real, uncompromising commitment to quality and performance. Instead of thinking of leaders as inspirational beings, sometimes it can come down to what you’re doing day-to-day to support your teams and bring them along with you.

Luke: How do you articulate the link between establishing a sense of belonging and inclusion and the organisation’s higher-level goals?

Underpinned by our People and Culture plan, we also built our corporate plan with colleagues from all over the organisation. Starting at a colleague conference, everyone had the opportunity to share their priorities for the five years ahead, so that shared sense of purpose was established from the beginning. The Corporate Plan translates into tangible outcomes for each team in the organisation, so there’s a real sense of that immediate connection between what that team is doing and where it sits in that broader corporate plan which is there to deliver our vision.

Luke: What is the best piece of advice that you have received over your career?

If you’re interested in something, always get involved. If you have a good idea, put it forward. Be proactive and present, and if you’re interested in being part of a conversation, just ask to be part of it. If it’s outside your area of expertise, you can gain so much by being exposed to other people’s knowledge and skill. 

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Luke James
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