Meet Board member Sanni
Sanni joined our Board in January 2022, we wanted to share his journey to inspire others to take the next steps to pursue a role as a Board member.
Written by Fiona—
21 Jul, 2023
My name is Sanni Salisu and welcome to my Boardroom experience blog.
First of all, a little bit about myself, I finished Year 11 with just a C in GCSE maths, all the rest of my exams were below C grade. Undeterred by my results I went on to study BTEC Level 2 in Engineering and IT which I really enjoyed and finished with merit in both subjects. I left school and worked in a large industrial bakery for couple of years before deciding to retrain as a plumber and gas engineer at a local college. After my full first year of studying, I secured a 4-year apprenticeship in a local housing association which gave me not just qualifications but lots of experiences too.
I am proud of what we do in social housing and the positive difference we make within the communities we serve. I have a passion for housing and believe everyone has a right to live in a safe and affordable home within thriving communities, and the housing sector strives to deliver that. After over a decade within the housing sector as an engineer; working in thousands of homes across diverse communities, it was clear to me that the workforce and Boards didn’t reflect the communities the organisations served. I didn’t see many people who looked like me or who had my lived experience. There was and still is, a lack of diversity in senior roles and in boardrooms of social housing providers. I love the housing sector; it has given me opportunities to grow and develop but I have also experienced prejudice and racism and seen first-hand the impact this has on communities.
Whilst my experience in the housing sector has been positive and negative, I absolutely have the passion to improve the representation in the sector to better serve the employees, and most importantly to address racial inequalities in the communities we serve; helping organisations engage and deliver better services to their wider communities.
I truly hope to see greater diversity in the housing sector at all levels of organisations where people feel supported and empowered to be their whole selves at work. It’s this hope that made me determined to become a board member.
Becoming a Board member
You may ask what qualifies me to be a board member from what you’ve read so far? Well, I might not be a university graduate or sound like your typical person you would expect to be a Non-Executive Director (NED).)
I am a board member because I have a substantial experience within the housing sector working across multiple departments from reactive maintenance, voids and compliance, decarbonisation, collaborating with neighbourhood managers, helping with policy development and much more. I understand the legal duties and responsibilities for managing the organisation’s finances and assets in a responsible manner. I may not be a typical Board member but I have skills and experience that add value to the governance, values and strategic objectives of my Board.
Getting a board role was surprisingly not as challenging as I thought it would be. Because of a gas safety campaign I participated in for Community Housing Cymru, I was asked if I would be interested in applying for their board when there was an opening. A vacancy arose, I applied, and secured an interview. I wasn’t successful because they had better candidates however, I had great feedback which gave me the confidence to stick with it and I applied for another two Housing Association Board roles
I was invited to interview for a Board Member role with Melin homes and after a rigorous process, I was successful. I was fortunate that Paula (Chief Executive at Melin Homes) had been on the interview panel when I was interviewed at the CHC board role, and was an advocate for me at the selection process ensuring I got an interview. Once I was invited to the interview, the rest was up to me, to do my thing and wow the panel and secure the role.
Before I got to this point of having the confidence to apply, I want to point out a few things that helped me along the way.
Firstly, I have a mentor who is absolutely brilliant in coaching me and sharing her insights with me. Having a mentor who has this experience and support you in your journey is really important for your career progression and positive reinforcement. Sonia has played a pivotal role in my personal development through regular monthly meetings and for this, I am grateful to her as my mentor!
Secondly, I spoke with multiple experienced board members who shared some insights to what it takes to be a Board member and in particular, Andrew Knight. He took time to give me a well-balanced step of what to look for in an organisation when applying to be on their Board and most importantly was able to spot my strengths and advised me how to best utilise them in my application.
Thirdly, sitting in on your own organisation’s Board meetings to gain an insight into what is going on in your own organisation and experiencing what gets discussed really helped me confirm the impact I can make in an organisation for the employees and the community they serve. I observed the CCHA board as I was a gas compliance officer there at the time.
Moving on, I went to Melin’s office in Pontypool, had my picture taken, collected my badge and laptop etc and I was ready for my first meeting as a board member.
When I received my first board pack, I was astonished with the agenda items and 140 pages of reports. I got to work and read the papers jotting down acronyms and words I have never came across before. Some of the contents in the report I fully understood and drawing from my long tenure in the sector, I started to piece the rest together googling each acronyms etc. I jotted a few questions down and I was ready for my first meeting. The meeting was via zoom as we were coming out of the pandemic. I and another new board member Naomi were warmly welcomed and we felt confident to contribute in our first meeting. We were able to add value by asking critical questions based on the reports in the papers, sought assurance and felt reassured by the leadership team.
My first meeting couldn’t have been better and the feedback I had from Chief Executive Paula and Julie Thomas, Chair of the board was excellent. Being a Board member can be challenging but yet always rewarding, although a large amount of effort is needed, the benefits are definitely worth it. I have had the chance to truly have an impact within the organisation and wider community.
As a new board member, I was assigned a mentor for support and coaching, if you are not confident when you join a board, they can assign you a mentor or you can always request one. My research work and self-development before my first board appointment really geared me up ready for the role and it paid off.
As a Muslim who eats halal and prays five times a day, halal food is always provided at our face-to-face meetings and a place to pray is also provided after I made the team aware of my requirements. Unfortunately, most people with special requirements like dietary for instance often shy away from asking even though 9 out 10 times its never a problem once people are aware. An inclusive workplace will have processes and procedures to accommodate all people with all protected characteristics of the Equality Act thus, providing a great work environment.
Why I wanted to Join Melin Homes Board
I was attracted to Melin Homes because they had pledged to the Deeds Not Words by Tai Pawb of which I am a panel member. The pledge helps the housing sector address racial inequalities, promote best practices and support organisations to take positive actions to address racial inequalities to better serve diverse communities across Wales. Melin are a well-run organisation with great leadership and staff.
Going to events such has Board away days were very interesting, going through Board risk appetite, doing team building exercises with other Non-Executive Directors was awesome and they got to learn first-hand how competitive I am! Whilst I didn’t know what to expect from my first Board away day, it was brilliant, a well-planned day full of information and discussions were on the next level! Everyone had an input and differences of opinion were healthy and well-mannered with different points of views respected.
Of course as a Board member you can choose to do only the required statutory and subcommittee meetings, I believe this is good but if you have the room to participate in other organisational events that involves your customers, and stakeholders, I believe it is best to do so, you learn more about the organisation, the people and how it operates. I attended Melin’s charity golf day event, volunteered at outreach programme in the community school project and I am part of task finish group to develop new KPI’s for the organisation. You can invest as much time as you see fit outside the obligatory meeting schedules and this really allows you to make such an impact.
Support available to get you Board member ready
Getting yourself ready for Board roles when you don’t have the necessary skills or experience can be difficult, however there are programmes out there that can help get you ready for your first role. I recommend you get in touch with Afshan Iqbal at CCHA who is the project manager for ‘Get Into Housing’ project and ‘Pathway to Board’ programme targeted at developing members from the ethnic minority to get experience and skills to work in the sector and on Board levels. Hayley Selway (Chief Executive at CCHA) has played a pivotal role in getting these projects running with collaboration of other housing associations to improve the representation in the sector to reflect the communities they serve. Housing Diversity Network is another organisation worth a mention for support in mentoring, and board programmes.
Reach out to your local organisations and observe your own organisations Board meetings, have a mentor that can support you and hand hold you through your journey, be accountable for yourself when given the opportunity to shine.