With a career spanning almost 30 years in the housing sector, recently elected Chair of London’s G15 Group, an OBE for her achievements in social housing and ambassador for the charity World Child Cancer, Geeta Nanda is inspirational proof that women can rise to top board positions in what is still predominantly a man’s domain. I wanted to hear more and recently caught up with Geeta to talk about the challenges that lie ahead with the massive demand for new homes, the crisis in building safety and the importance of communities pulling together as we emerge from the pandemic.
You took over the role as Chair of London’s G15 group in June during one of the most challenging times in modern history – can you explain for us a little about what G15 does, your role and the main priorities going forwards.
The G15 is a group of the largest Housing Associations in the country that have a focus on London. There are actually 12 of us after a few mergers, but we kept the brand of G15! We have been at the heart of London life for decades, and for over 20 years have worked together to make the case for more people to have access to an affordable, safe and secure place to call home. We champion the remarkable contribution good homes and communities can make to people’s lives and their importance to London as a whole. We actually provide homes for one in ten Londoners, build a quarter of all of London’s new homes and have a collective turnover of more than £5,5bn with responsibility for over 600,000 homes! We are set to build around 120,000 affordable homes in London and the South East over the next 10 years. As CEO of one of the largest housing associations in the country and as part of the G15 I am very honoured to take over as Chair of the group, speaking out for Londoners.
Our key priorities going forward are:
We want to see a stronger and fairer London emerge from the pandemic.
With the pandemic highlighting the importance of communities pulling together, do you think this has opened up a greater national understanding of community hardship in so many areas, particularly when it comes to housing, services and building safety?
I do think that people spending more time at home and locally have come to have a greater appreciation of their local neighbourhoods and communities. There is something very levelling around surviving an emergency. The heroes and those we worshiped were those who toiled every day while we stayed at home. The hospital workers, those driving buses, serving in shops. We can see people speaking up for the low wages of care staff and for those suffering injustice, like the leaseholders stuck as a result of the building safety crisis. It has been shown that everyone is happier when things are more equal for all.
Do you think we are going to come out of the pandemic with a stronger and lasting community unison across all cultures?
I think we are at a crossing point where we can choose to go back to how things were, or we can take this massive opportunity to change lives for the better and invest in things that really matter. People have tasted stronger communities and I do hope this sticks around. It is very telling that the footballers of today are putting back into their communities and fighting for social justice rather than showing off their high incomes with flashy cars.
What do you love most about your work?
I love the people I work with and seeing the difference they make to people’s lives. Many of them have a huge passion for what they do and care so deeply about the people they serve.
Hardest challenge you’ve had to face?
I think the current crisis around building safety post Grenfell. We have so many thousands of people stuck and unable to move because of the huge mess around cladding and rectification of poor workmanship over the years from developers, which means buildings don’t have the right protection they should. There is conflicting guidance and lack of ownership by government around how this all came about. As the landlord, we are left trying to sort this out, but we don’t have the resources and we can’t respond to the growing crises with lenders unwilling to give so many people mortgages and an industry that doesn’t have the specialisms to get this sorted. It is heartbreaking hearing people’s stories and not being able to respond adequately.
Your proudest achievement?
Becoming CEO of a large Housing Association when there are no other black and brown CEO’s in this position.
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
My mum is 88 and she continues to inspire me. She doesn’t let anything get in her way even though she is getting much frailer. She has fought against great loss and racism to be an amazing positive force in her own way. Everyone who meets her feels her spirituality and adores her. She is also quite simply the best cook!
Do you think we are beginning to see a positive shift towards gender equality in the workplace –and a change in the ageist narrative across society as a whole when it comes to women in midlife and beyond?
One of the things that has been great to see is that the next generation don’t have the same issues with women as managers. When I was being promoted there were often men who did not like seeing a woman in charge. In the property industry it was very much a male world with very few women making it to the top. It meant that I was often the only one in a room full of men when we had meetings with private sector partners. But this is changing now and there are many more women in the room. I was part of a campaign that encouraged men not to speak on a platform if there no women speaking and that really changed things! I do think we still have a way to go particularly with older women. It is a harder fight.
Top beauty ‘must have’ in your makeup bag?
I don’t really wear much make up, but I always have a lipstick or a lip balm in my bag. A sweep of colour on the lips always makes me feel better!
Desert Island disc, book and luxury item?
My Spotify playlist – full of eclectic music for dancing, crying, sighing and laughing. My book would be The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and my luxury would have to be my bed so that I can get a good night’s sleep!
And finally, your favourite quote?
“And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”