'It's always been a dream': Project helps black and ethnic minority people reach top roles on boards

PA/Reham Mustafa photo
Reham Mustafa hopes to become a board member one day Credit: PA/Reham Mustafa

Five housing associations from across South Wales have started a programme to tackle the lack of ethnic diversity on boards in and outside the housing sector.

Representatives from Taff, CCHA, Linc Cymru, Cadwyn and Hafod housing associations, said they recognised that their boards were not diverse enough.

They added that when they took positive action to address the issue, the interest was overwhelming.

The project, called Pathway to Board, has recruited a group of 50 people who are now taking part in training and mentoring - with the hope they will one day soon become board members.

Reham Mustafa is one of the team who has been selected for the project. 

She said: "It’s always been a dream to reach that level.

"I want to be in a position where you can make a change in organisations and hold people accountable."

Reham, who is originally from Syria, works in marketing. She moved to Cardiff in 2016 and said she could not be happier since being in Wales.

If Reham becomes a board member, she said she would aim to put diversity and inclusion into action.

"You can’t say you’re a diverse organisation if the board is not diverse enough... 

"I have no doubt that it is harder for people from ethnic minorities to reach the highest positions.

"It’s because of society and conscientious bias, it’s the way human beings have been programmed to think.

"I didn’t think I’d be able to get back into business because of my ethnicity."

A number of Welsh housing associations want to make their boards more diverse Credit: PA

Reham is being mentored by Jonathan Morgan, Chair of Hendre Group and Hafod Housing Association. She said one useful piece of advice that he has given her is about the switch in mentality needed to become a board member rather than an employee.

"He told me that board members have to look at longer, bigger picture and how things would impact the whole organisation and society. Not just thinking about the day-to-day." 

Hayley Selway, chief executive of Cardiff Community Housing Association (CCHA), is the project's chair.

Hayley has been at CCHA for three years.

She said: "We work in a diverse part of Cardiff but our board wasn’t very diverse from an ethnicity point of view.

"I started talking to local people in Butetown and I was hearing that we needed to build trust. Someone told me, 'you don't have houses or homes for families like mine with five or six children - multigenerational families.' We weren't listening to community in terms of needs.

"I was told, 'once we trust you as a landlord we’ll trust you as an employer’.

"I wanted to make change from the top and take positive action to make our own board more diverse and represent the community around us.

"Now, half of our board members are from black or ethnic minority backgrounds."

What is the role of a board member?

Hayley said board members are the custodians of organisations.

They make sure the officers are managing the business well. They also have responsibility over the money and the culture of the business. And they check that it is complying with health and safety legislation.

Board members can appoint chief executives and hold the bosses to account to make significant changes.

Hayley added: "With this project, we hope to make a difference to the face of leadership across Wales.

"Diverse boards make better decisions and can help us provide far better services for tenants and communities across Wales.

"For a lot of our families, their first language isn't English. We need to communicate better with our customers.

"It should ensure far better quality housing across Wales."