Industry Leaders
Queens Cross Housing Association
Chief Executive

Shona Stephen

For inclusion to truly be felt in an organisation, one-off training simply isn’t enough — instead, it must become a culture that is embedded into everything the organisation does.

Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Shona Stephen, Chief Executive of Queens Cross Housing Association, a tenant-led community housing organisation in Glasgow, Scotland. With an extensive background spanning housing policy, urban regeneration, social enterprise, and community development, Shona discussed her full-circle career journey to becoming CEO and key to fostering an inclusive culture while merging organisations.

Shona's Journey

Luke: Let's start with an introduction to yourself and Queens Cross Housing Association for those unfamiliar.

I'm Shona Stephen, Chief Executive of Queens Cross Housing Association. We're a community-based housing association located in the northwest of Glasgow, currently managing over 4,300 homes, predominantly flats, with a team of around 200 staff. Beyond our core landlord services, we offer an array of programs, including financial inclusion assistance, caretaking services for our buildings, wellbeing support, targeted help for both the elderly and those facing poor mental health, as well as a diverse range of community and social regeneration initiatives spanning ESOL classes to youth programs to community gardening projects and more. We also operate two subsidiary companies – Queens Cross Factoring, providing external property management services for private owners in the areas we serve, and Queens Cross Workspace, which owns over 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail premises.

Luke: Could you walk me through your own career journey that ultimately led you to the role of Chief Executive?

It's quite a full-circle story. I graduated from university having studied English Literature and Art History, later completing a postgraduate degree in marketing. At the time, I was actually a tenant of a similar community-based housing association very near Queens Cross. As a tenant there, I became involved as a board member. The ethos of these community housing associations is that they're run by a majority of tenants – the board is primarily made up of tenants themselves, historically almost entirely. They aim to serve the needs of their defined community. So, as a 25-year-old tenant and community member, I joined the board out of interest in both the architectural/regeneration side and the mission of providing this fundamental foundation of housing to enable wider societal engagement.

From there, I worked in several roles focused on housing development and urban regeneration before becoming Director of a 500-home housing co-op. Seeking broader impact, I later moved on to lead The Prince's Trust Scotland, supporting disadvantaged youth. I then joined the Scottish Government housing agency, enjoying influencing policy but missing hands-on delivery. When the Chief Executive post at Queens Cross arose, I was compelled by the twin challenges of rebuilding the organisation after past troubles and merging two organisational cultures following the acquisition of stock from Glasgow Housing Association.

Luke: What would you say are the most vital elements to genuinely engendering that sense of inclusion, belonging and cohesion when mergers like this occur?

The absolute most crucial thing is genuinely believing in inclusion yourself. Employees can detect any lack of true integrity around these issues instantly. You must lead by example in both words and actions, while clearly communicating why diversity and inclusion matter specifically for achieving your mission. It starts with ensuring our core values of respect, integrity and aspiration are reinforced constantly. Our policies must embed inclusion as intrinsic to everything we do, not an add-on or box-ticking exercise. While foundational training ensures everyone has the basic tools and understanding, these principles must ultimately be threaded through all we do – from how managers run meetings to everyday conversations. It's about modelling these behaviours daily, not forcing one-off programs on people.

Luke: Practically speaking, how do you actively engage busy employees? It can often be a hurdle to get full buy-in across large organisations.

You're absolutely right, you can't make people feel inclusion is being forced upon them, separate from their day jobs. The key is integrating these priorities holistically and organically into everyday workings and processes. For example, employees themselves led our successful initiatives to boost young staff numbers and minority ethnic representation to better reflect our communities. By empowering staff to drive change through peer discussions tailored to what matters most to them, it becomes an organic movement rather than a top-down diktat.

Luke: As we wrap up, what's the best piece of advice you've received over your career? 

My mother once told me that if you're ever running late, take a moment to tidy up and look composed before rushing into the meeting or appointment. Essentially, even if you're feeling on the back foot, take time to get yourself back on the front foot. This has resonated with me throughout my career. In leadership roles especially, you'll inevitably face uncertainty, but gathering yourself, focusing on what you know, and entering situations strongly even when off-kilter is critical. 

More broadly, it's people's behaviours, not one-liners, that have influenced me most over the years. But her advice on projecting confidence even when feeling rushed or unsettled has served me very well to this day.

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Luke James
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