International Women’s Day – A Social Housing Perspective

Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day we are taking a look at some of the hard fought achievements in driving equality across the UK social housing sector, as well as some of the challenges that we still need to overcome.

As a sector we are doing pretty well (although we’re not quite there yet) when it comes to women in leadership positions compared to the national average. In 2016, an Inside Housing survey recorded a 40:60 ratio of women to men in leadership roles, compared to just under 20:80 across UK business as a whole (City AM, 2017). Alarmingly, this number appears to be falling rather than increasing across UK Business in general, and the percentage of UK firms with no women in senior management at all had risen from 36 per cent to 41 per cent by the end of 2017. It is interesting to note that social housing has a similar ratio when it comes to senior level executives and board members, which may be relevant when linking diversity statistics within the wider remit of the UK business landscape and observing many of the old-style decision-making processes. And even when compared to the largest global players our humble social housing industry can pack a hefty punch. In October 2015, women made up 26.1% of board members of FTSE 100 companies (Inside Housing).

Flexing Our Muscles

So what makes social housing such a rich environment for equality in leadership? Partly it may be due to the fact that the sector has created a bigger focus on flexible working and is currently one of best and most flexible sectors for employees with children or caring responsibilities. In 2017, Southdown Housing came tenth in this category at the Top 30 Employer for Working Families Award, alongside some of the biggest corporate heavy weights, including Deloitte, American Express and Barclays Bank. One of the secrets to Southdown’s success seems to be down to the housing provider having a supportive, consciously diverse and inclusive management structure in place.

Another reason the Social Housing industry is geared towards pushing greater diversity could be due the sector taking a more determined and dynamic approach to supporting women into not just more housing roles but developing more female leadership career pathways. Organisations such as WISH (Women In Social Housing) and ourselves here at Greenacre Recruitment actively seek out and encourage women to challenge traditional perceptions and take ownership of their leadership qualities, supporting female candidates to stand up and be counted, have confidence in their abilities and smash through outdated modes of thought, particularly in the harder to break into industry areas such as construction. Right now this particular segment is crying out for the combined technical knowledge, commercial acumen and softer skills that statistics show us women leaders possess in droves.

We Do Better Across The Board

At a time when organisational hierarchy is disintegrating and the younger generation of a more transient, nimble workforce emerges, the idea of the traditional board is almost an outdated concept, and many female led firms appear to operate and function more cohesively on the whole with the changing dynamics of a nubile, less linear and more diverse organisational landscape. South Yorkshire Housing Group, for instance, is one of the few organisations that have a higher majority of women across both executive and board level, and are thriving, being named as one of the best Companies to work for in Yorkshire in 2019. They have had a Diversity Champion that has been engaged within strategic personnel decisions for the past nine years, although, rather than actively positively discriminating, the role is utilised to seek out the best people for the job, no matter their gender, race or, in some cases, background. This is a practice we at Greenacre are strongly akin to. Casey Richmond, Senior Consultant at Greenacre believes there are lots of women rising through the ranks in the sector or just starting out in housing, and its up to us to reach out and recognise talent as it emerges. “We have an incredibly diverse talent pool in the housing industry, and it would be crazy not to take advantage of the wide range of skills and experience our female candidates have to offer in the sector. We have placed a number of skilled women in senior and executive level roles, but it’s down to their talent, rather than their gender”.

“It’s not so much about actively seeking a minority candidate and positively discriminating, but rather creating a talent pool that reflects the ability, potential and values of talented individuals in every diverse category. It’s about smashing through the barriers and not just focusing on the ones that shout the loudest and have the most to say due to invisible unfair advantage” (Garry Thomas, Senior Consultant in Property Services, Greenacre Recruitment).

We’d like to wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day, and although we feel there is still a fair bit to go in terms of equal pay, equal opportunity and an equal playing field, we are proud to be part of an industry that is making such a big impact on gender equality. We think that’s something to shout about.

Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and collaborates with the team and wider network on Leadership, Human Resources, Change Management issues and the challenges and transitions currently facing the UK housing sector.

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