Corporate Responsibility and D&I – A Happy Couple?

Sandra Sanglin, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Clarion Housing Group, discusses the growing trend to manage Diversity and Inclusion under the Corporate Responsibility umbrella.

In the words of the old Frank Sinatra song, ’Love and Marriage’, do CR and D&I ‘go together like a horse and carriage?’ I guess that raises a further question which is to wonder why there would even be a doubt that they would.

I think the answer lies in the fact that different companies approach Corporate Responsibility in different ways – three versions, in particular, spring to mind:

  1. As corporate philanthropy: donating money to worthy causes, but perhaps with limited, short-term impact;
  2. As risk management: all businesses of every ilk will have to deal with risk, including reputational - such is the nature of being in business;
  3. As value creation – where businesses seek to go above and beyond corporate giving to add value in their interactions with their various stakeholders, whether that be with staff, customers or the wider world of which they are a part. The impact, therefore, becomes high value, strategic and long lasting.

As the largest Housing Association in Europe with 4,000 staff and 350,000 residents, and as a business for social purpose, we put approach number three at the heart of all of that we do. It is often forgotten that Housing Associations have Charitable aims and that we exist to house people on low incomes to in affordable homes. As Clarion, our intention is to build 50,000 new homes over the next decade as our contribution to addressing the housing crisis.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion, determines the way in which we interact with our stakeholders, who are, in fact, people! People engagement is fundamental to value creation whether we’re focusing on community or environmental projects. Since most of our efforts are about impacting positively on the communities that we serve, having a deep understanding of how those communities are populated, plus who’s included and who isn’t, adds a level of granularity that makes for a greater and more sustainable impact.

Clarion Futures, our Charitable Foundation, for example, is responsible for investing £150 million over the next decade, in support for individuals and communities across the UK. But it doesn’t stop there – Clarion Futures is also dedicated to creating £1 billion in Social Value over the next decade, which are all the bits that go above and beyond giving money, working closely with a number of key stakeholders, including staff, contractors and residents who give their time and other resources to improve our communities. The social value is measured in things like volunteering, gardening, time spent talking to neighbour, coffee mornings for disabled residents, helping our elderly residents get online or capitalising on energy savings.

Our colleagues

Many Clarion colleagues, for example, have signed up to be Mentors to our Apprentices, to help them over the hurdles of making the most of their time with us.

Our Contractors give their time and resources to helping to do up some of our community centres or in creating apprenticeships within their own contracting and sub-contracting businesses.

Our Youth Ambassadors help us improve our services, with a focus this year on deaf and hearing impaired residents.

Our LGBT Out & About Network is helping us to be known an a Housing Association that welcomes and supports its LGBT residents.

Our internal Corporate Charity has seen Clarion staff raise over £120,000 in 18 months for Brain Tumour Research, with staff breaking every boundary of creativity to come up with fundraising ideas, from sky diving, to pumpkin growing to cycle races.

These are some of the ways that the marriage between CR and D&I has had a positive effect. It means we go above and beyond our basic responsibilities as a corporate citizen and are constantly looking for ways to increase and multiply the positive impact for disadvantaged or marginalised groups.

The legal framework can sometimes create artificial barriers between groups, whereas CR can encompass a wider territory. Because as we know, it’s impossible to separate the woman from the lone parent, from the disability, from the race, from the sexual orientation or identity, from the struggle to pay the heating bill or the rent, or from the visits to the Job Centre. All those identities collide and therefore, our response, as a Housing Provider, I believe, needs to ‘collide’ too.

Corporate Responsibility really comes into its own in helping to join up the dots: like a sort of expert travel consultant who helps people and departments to see the how they might create more synergy with each other – and there are still huge, untapped reservoirs of potential for the marriage between CR and Diversity and Inclusion that we’re still coming to understand and appreciate.

CR and D&I? ‘You can’t have one without the oooother’ (sorry Frank!).