How Sanctuary are building a culture of diversity and inclusion

“No initiative will work if it’s just a diversity ‘tick box’ exercise or if it’s just virtue signalling”

How Sanctuary are building a culture of diversity and inclusion

The business benefits of inclusive organisations are becoming widely understood. Yet, research continues to reveal a lack of diversity, particularly at senior levels of the housing sector.


In this short interview, Michelle Warfield and David Lyall at Sanctuary Group outline the practical steps they have taken to build a culture of diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation.


Diversity and inclusion are important themes at Housing 2020 – don’t miss experts Debbie Forster, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter and Shereen Daniels of HR Rewired discuss increasing workforce diversity at TECH@Housing on 3 September at 15:45-16:30.

Register your free place now.

  1. Why is diversity and inclusion so important for you at Sanctuary?

Sanctuary is an organisation that provides care, support and housing services to the entire cross-section of society. We wouldn’t be able to meet our customers’ diverse needs and expectations if we didn’t appreciate different points of view or treat people fairly and with respect. In order to achieve that, it’s critical that we set ourselves high standards with regards to diversity and inclusivity, both with our staff and our extended communities.


Diversity is one of our five core values as an organisation. We strive to respect and value the diversity of our people and we are committed to providing fair access to services for all of our customers.

  1. What action have you taken to build a culture of diversity and inclusion and engage staff?

A number of internal initiatives are already well established. Our Equality and Diversity Working Group, reporting directly to our exec committee, meets regularly to advocate and promote issues and best practice. Their ongoing action plans have culminated in our Fairness For All scheme which brings together our strategic objectives and commitments to improve. That document is publicly facing and is available to read from our Sanctuary Group website.


Sanctuary is a member of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme which we use to support our ambitions around achieving sexual orientation and gender identity equality in the workplace. We are also a registered Disability Confident Employer and have joined the Business Disability Forum. We have an established Women in Technology forum which is focusing on the current gender imbalance in technology roles and has led to Sanctuary signing the Tech Talent Charter and joining the Tech We Can scheme. Sanctuary is also a member of Women in Construction, an independent organisation promoting gender equality within the construction industry. We try and be as vocal as possible about this good work so that it is recognised by our staff.


There’s a lot going on that has all evolved over time, and Sanctuary’s footprint touches many different aspects of business and society, so last year we recruited a Diversity and Inclusion Manager to help focus and mature our aspirations for improvement.

  1. How are you measuring success?

Measuring success is trickier than you’d think. Our Fairness For All scheme clearly sets out our strategies and tactics, but quite often what we are trying to improve is intangible, far reaching or is linked to biases and inequalities that are deeply baked in to society. Different lines of business within Sanctuary also face different issues and so would naturally look to focus on different areas of improvement, so success in a care home setting would look different to success for home construction or maintenance.


It’s a challenge that must be addressed though, and we are committed to improving our staff and customer engagement to better understand and respond to issues of culture and sentiment. We will be focussing on measures and targets that support our aspirations in the upcoming months.

  1. What benefits have you seen as a result of your work in this area?

We have already begun attracting and recruiting more women into our construction and technology departments as a direct result of our efforts with Women into Construction and Women in Technology. Improvements to our job advertising strategies and being publicly vocal about our involvement with equality schemes have helped us to reach and recruit talent that might otherwise not have been interested in applying. Greater gender equality in these areas will help to ensure that the design and delivery of their services is more representative of their customers’ needs.


We have also established The Equality Inclusion Zone, a group open to all staff to explore issues affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (’LGBT’) people at Sanctuary. This emphasises heavily the visibility and importance of work place allies and a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and hate crime. One of the key benefits being that if people experience their workplace as a safe space then this is a critical investment into our staff’s mental health and wellbeing, and the greater the likelihood is of us retaining talented and motivated staff.

  1. What is your advice to other organisations starting on their journey?

Spend time thinking about why diversity and inclusivity is truly valuable to your organisation, your customers and the services that you provide. The answers will not be the same for everyone, and no initiative will work if it’s just a fashionable diversity ‘tick box’ exercise or if it’s just virtue signalling. Once you can articulate the value, make sure that that message is integral to your planning and communication so that everything you do is geared around maximising that value.


You should also make sure that you understand and be honest about your current position, even if doesn’t tell you a flattering story. Every improvement initiative needs a destination, and you can’t plot your path there if you don’t know what your start point is.


To learn more about building diverse and inclusive cultures at TECH@Housing, attend “The future of digital skills, talent and diversity” session on 3 September at 15:45-16:30. Featuring expert advice and guidance from Debbie Forster, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter; Nadira Hussain, director of leadership development & research, Socitm and Shereen Daniels, founder of HR Rewired.