Nick Crofts CEO Co-Op Foundation

Interview with Nick Crofts, CEO Co-Op Foundation

Our Pride in Leadership series continues this week, as we sat down with Nick Crofts, CEO of the Co-op Foundation.

His career spans leadership roles in the private and public sector, giving a wide view of the world that balances community and commerce. In April 2017, Crofts was named as one of the UK’s ‘Top-Ten Inspirational Leaders’ in the NatWest LGBT Awards.

We had the chance to sit down with Nick and discuss challenges that the LGBTQ+ community face, the importance of diversity on a Board, and his own personal experiences and leadership style.

1. You’re known for both integrity and innovation – reflecting on your own personal experience can you describe your leadership style and how it may have evolved over the years? Particularly in championing social justice and human rights whilst balancing the needs of leading an organisation through commercial uncertainty?

My leadership style is one that strives to embody empathy, inclusivity, and collaboration. I’ve always been very fortunate in that I have worked with (and built) highly capable teams, and it has been easy for me to be consultative, collaborative and to rely heavily on the expertise of others.

There is often a vast amount of talent hidden in organisations. People often don’t know all that they’re capable of. An effective leader can support them to help unlock their capabilities. Often it just needs the right sort of facilitation to help bring the insight, inspiration and inventiveness to the fore.

In my view, there is no contradiction between championing social justice and stewarding organisations through uncertainty. In a sense, uncertainty is the only ‘known’! Doing the right thing and supporting individuals, customers, colleagues and teams is very often the smart commercial play.

2. When we last interviewed you, you said: “Diversity is key to any modern Boardroom, but concentrating on only one form of diversity isn’t enough; a Board should represent every aspect of the organisation or community it represents.” How do you feel the world has moved on that point since we last spoke in 2022?

Sadly, the world has not moved on enough. My experience has always been that discussion, deliberation and decision making is richer and more fertile when there is a wide array of perspectives represented in the debate.

This goes beyond representation. Whilst I do still strongly believe that ‘You have to be able to see it to want to be it’, in terms of inspiring a desire and ambition for people from underrepresented communities and groups to get involved – it goes further than that.

Cognitive diversity must go hand-in-hand with representative diversity. One without the other fails to maximise the possibilities. There is much more work to do in very many boardrooms – in the housing and charity and voluntary sector not least. Significant progress has been made on gender and racial diversity, which is to be welcomed – but much more work needed to centre the voices of people with disability, those from the LGBTQI+ community and – perhaps most challenging, at least in the housing sector – young people.

We are missing out by not taking advantage of the expertise that have each gleaned by virtue of their experiences.

3. The Co-op Foundation are repeatedly in the news for championing youth opportunities, and many struggle to balance their identity with their careers. Looking back, if you were in their shoes in 2024, what advice would you give to a younger LGBTQ+ individual who is starting to develop their career?

The world is a different place to when I started my career. Now, being LGBTQI+ is celebrated rather than derided – in most workplaces, but sadly not all.

All sensible workplaces – even those that wouldn’t think of themselves as progressive –encourage their colleagues to bring their whole selves to work and to be themselves, because they want to get the best from them and enable their teams to do their best work.

I’d always advise young people to find a sector that they are inspired by and an organisation that vales them as individuals – where difference is regarded as something interesting rather than a threat. It can take some time to find – and so my advice would be ‘keep looking!’ if they haven’t found it yet.

4. The LGBTQI+ community continues to face numerous challenges. What do you believe are the most pressing issues today, and for whom? How can public sector leadership ally together and effectively address these challenges?

The LGBTQI+ community indeed faces various challenges that need attention and action. Some of the most pressing issues today include continued discrimination, inadequate healthcare, homelessness among LGBTQI+ youth, mental health disparities, and violence and hatred against transgender people, especially transgender women of colour.

Public sector leadership can play a crucial role in addressing these challenges by implementing policies that protect LGBTQI+ rights, promoting diversity and inclusion within institutions, providing funding for LGBTQI+ programs and services, supporting LGBTQI+ individuals in healthcare and other services, and actively engaging with LGBTQI+ advocacy groups to understand and address community-specific needs. By collaborating with LGBTQI+ organisations, promoting education and awareness, and advocating for equality at all levels, public sector leaders can help create a more inclusive and supportive environment for the LGBTQI+ community.

As well as his role as CEO of the Co-op Foundation, Nick Croft is also Chair of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group, an elected member of the Co-op Group National Members’ Council, and a Liverpool City Councillor.

Nick’s mix of experience across politics, business and housing is unique and he provides an authentic drive to achieve in all these areas. He demonstrates strong commitment to community prosperity and diversity and has won various Awards across the UK. With over 10 years’ experience at a senior level in the complex and large member owned Co-operative organisation, and over 20’ years of direct leadership experience Nick’s strategic impact on a national scale is clear. He has a long-term commitment to community, diversity and social prosperity.

This is one in a series of Pride In Leadership interviews and leadership profiles taking place during Pride 2024. We are amplifying the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQ+ leaders and active allies throughout June and beyond as part of our ongoing commitment to inclusion. Find out who else is taking part and read and watch back previous profiles from others in the community here

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