In Focus: Martin Collett

In Focus: Martin Collett

Position: Chief Executive Officer at English Rural Housing Association

Specialism: Rural Housing and Community Development

Background: Farming Heritage

Board portfolio: Trustee, Albert Kennedy Trust; Trustee, Plunkett Foundation; Director, Rural Services Network; Trustee (former), Action Hampshire.

Inclusive Boards sat down with Martin Collett to find out more about his experience as a Trustee and what can be done to improve LGBTQ+ representation at senior leadership and board level.

Could you explain to me a little bit about how housing is a particular issue for LGBTQ+ people?

“The needs of young people from the (LGBTQ+) community are not always understood within the mainstream. Some of the pressures that the community face are unique, quite personal and aren’t easily articulated.  For LGBTQ+ young people, being able to explain their circumstances to housing options and support services can be difficult, even uncomfortable. Their circumstances can be complex and not easily accommodated in the decisions that are made on their behalf. One of the things that the Albert Kennedy Trust advocates is that the needs of the LGBTQ+ community are better understood by those offering youth homelessness support services.”

You were successfully placed on the board of Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) through Inclusive Boards, are there any projects at AKT that you are particularly passionate about?

“AKT are principally a metropolitan focused charity with offices based in London, Manchester and Newcastle, but they have regional and digital ambitions, and this includes reaching into rural areas. One of the things I always say is that there is a misconception about rural areas, that everything is fine – it might look like that, but in many cases it’s a veneer, and if you look behind the door you find there are plenty of problems going on that are hidden because services or support simply isn’t available to help. Often problems around young LGBTQ+ people aren’t seen or addressed at all in rural areas.”

What can LGBTQ+ inclusion at board level look like?

“It’s important that Boards have a diverse mix of opinions, skills and individuals who represent the broader communities that they are set up to serve and help. It’s not just about LGBTQ+ representation, it’s about diverse representation so that all viewpoints are heard when decisions are made. If diversity is missing at board level that that will filter down throughout the organisation and its offer, which can cause people to feel disenfranchised or not heard.  Ensuring everyone has a voice at that strategic board level is critical.”

“I think they [Boards] are getting better and heading in the right direction, but that there is still some way to go to reach what I feel is reasonable representation. I’d like to believe that board culture is changing in a way that enables people to present and be themselves at board meetings, rather than feeling like they need to conform to what people think board members should be like. There is an established culture there and it’s about shaking that up and making Boards realise the value in becoming more diverse and accommodating difference. There’s still some way to go but I would say that it’s improving. Certainly, the work that you guys do [Inclusive Boards] is helping that well.”

IB: “Yeh, I think I would agree things are improving…”

Martin: “It works both ways though. At the Albert Kennedy Trust, my view is that it’s important that we have diverse representation as well. Which means not just having people from the LGBTQ+ community on the Board. Without that diversity there’s a danger you get groupthink.”

What advice do you have for anyone looking to become a Trustee?

“Understand what your motivation is first, because it’s a big commitment to join a Board and if you’re going to do it you need to do it for the right reasons and you need to make sure that a) you’ve got the skills that you feel add value to a Board and b) that you’ve got the time there to do it properly. It’s an important life decision, so you’ve got to take it seriously.”

“Once you’ve understood your motivations, find a charity to support or a Board to join that aligns with these. Ideally you need to believe in the organisations purpose, that’s certainly the case with the Boards I have joined. I’ve always challenged myself by asking, what is the purpose of the organisation, how does that align with my personal motivations, and what do I feel I can bring to the table and offer to the Board?”

“One of the things that has always surprised me with board membership generally is the accepted practice to remain for the maximum term that’s permitted, whether its 6 years, 9 years or 12 years, people tend to join for the duration. My view is you join for the duration that you’re valuable to that Board. You need to ask yourself the honest questions, am I still adding value? Have the skills I’ve brought been used effectively and are they now better applied elsewhere?”

“Bringing it back to advice to people considering joining a Board, I would say you can get a lot out of it as well. You’re always learning from broader board membership, you’re learning from your colleagues, you’re learning about the organisation, these are all skills and experiences you can take into your own professional and personal lives.”

“You also get an insight into areas of life and activities that perhaps you didn’t know very much about before and certainly get some good life experience! If you’re on a Board like the Albert Kennedy trust which has a great Chair, it’s exciting to be a part of something that is making a difference and there’s real reward in seeing results knowing you were a part of making that happen.”

How can boards be more inclusive?

“Challenge themselves more, think about the accepted processes and culture – are these a barrier to diversity? We spoke before about Boards traditionally looking and acting in a certain way, if that sounds familiar, be brave and challenge that. Recognise that becoming more inclusive will add value to what you do. Don’t just do it because you’re ticking a box, do it because you’re open-minded and you recognise that it’s not just the right thing but it’s a good thing, for your organisation. Do it because you understand that it will help your Board flourish as diversity adds value. “

What was your experience of the recruitment process (application and interview) to becoming a Trustee at Albert Kennedy Trust? 

“Honestly… I found it pretty terrifying! You’re aware that you are being judged on your skills and experiences, to a certain extent on your personality as well. The risk of being disappointed is always looming over you. But you know what? If you don’t try then you don’t know, and you don’t improve and learn. I’d been involved with the Albert Kennedy Trust as an Ambassador for a few years previously and for me stepping up to the Board was a huge consideration because it was a big-time commitment.  It was an organisation I had become very fond of and thought very highly of – what they do is great – and I felt I could add something too. My advice to anyone considering joining a Board would be to give it a go – just be brave!”

Would you recommend Inclusive Boards to people in your network?

Yes, I would, and I have!

What was the best part of Inclusive Boards’ service to you as a candidate?

“In terms of the service, you offered two things which were notable for me, one is the reach you have into the community in terms of access, for example the way you went about placing adverts. Inclusive Boards knew how to get to the candidates that you needed to. The approach was above and beyond what I’m used to seeing in terms of board recruitment…” 

“I would also say in terms of the follow-up service you were faultless, it was a seamless professional experience, as a candidate I knew exactly what to expect and when to expect it and was kept well informed at all times.”