This month saw organisations all over the UK obliged to release their second set of gender pay gap figures, in a bid to confront the national divide. Although the UK Social Housing industry is consistently doing better than the national average (latest figures show an 8.6% division, Office For National Statistics), there is still a significant gap, with an unsettling rise from 7.8% last year, to 8.1% in 2019 (Inside Housing).
Its Time To Get Flexible
So despite the tangible efforts being made across the sector to address this issue with more equal pay structures, what could be standing in the way of women being employed in roles with higher salary scales? Partly, we believe, it is due to many organisations being hesitant to embrace the modern agile work and leadership practices emerging. As organisational structure is being pushed into digitalisation to drive modernisation, cost reduction, productivity and efficiency, the next natural step is a more flexible, nubile workforce. As a whole, the social housing sector is taking great strides, and in some cases leading the way, in innovative and dynamic work practices, and flexibility has been a key instrument in this. However, alongside fears of stepping into unknown employment practice territory, with so many other changes taking place which are challenging the very ethos of public sector services (such as the need to embrace commercialisation), it can be of no surprise that many housing associations are reluctant to encourage changes they may perceive as relinquishing control from traditional structure and ‘dehumanising’ the services they provide. But this transformation is more about working smarter within the roles already being performed, than working in a completely different way altogether. Agile working can not only help organisations to perform better, it in many cases increases human contact and face to face service, as well as encouraging more diversity into the roles that were previously seen as incompatible for many with outside work commitments and challenges.
Embracing The Change – Reaping The Benefits
Irvine Housing Association, part of the Riverside group, have recently reorganised their operations into a more digitalised, agile work model, and their prediction is that it will “ultimately deliver a better, modern service for our tenants which combines speed and efficiency for simple transactions, and targets our staff towards face to face contact with those tenants that need additional services to sustain their tenancies”(Paul Hillard, Managing Director). The organisation acknowledges the sector needs to step up its game in order to keep up with modern work practices and are “keen to address the need for more flexible working conditions”. Irvine HA’s model is based on a service that will be digital in the first instance, and that will have “agile and empowered front-line housing and asset staff spending most of their [work] time with customers and in communities”. Their prediction is not unrealistic. Many case studies can be found of organisations showing an increase in savings, customer care, productivity and employee retainment. For example Wokingham Council moved over to their agile work model in 2013, and within two years the organisation saw a saving of £500K, 82% employees reporting more productivity, higher customer satisfaction rates and absences due to sickness significantly reduced (Flexibility UK).
But agile transition is not without its challenges. In order for the agile work model to be truly effective, it should have a positive effect on work practice, improve work/life balance for employees and enhance services provided to customers and service users. It can often take a little time for different individuals to get used to a more flexible approach, and there are some services and roles that are less open to flexibility. However, by making the best use of those resources that are most able to accommodate the model, time, business hours and unnecessary work space can be freed up to allow those extra resources to directly support other processes. Generally, results are shown to be positive and long term financial, individual and organisational benefits outweigh any initial unsettling impact. An individually tailored model, with clear aims and outcomes that are well administered and monitored, not only encourages a more diverse, highly motivated employee pool to emerge and develop their talents within the organisation it also encourages individuals to apply for senior level roles that they may previously have perceived as ‘out of bounds’ that, in the longer term, can help to address issues such as the gender pay divide.
Practicing What We Preach
Here at Greenacre we have adopted our own model of agile working for our entire back support staff and are integrating the model throughout the organisation at every level. Since starting our own agile journey, several of our female workforce have accelerated into more senior roles, we are entering our most successful year to date and are growing faster than ever before. By leading by example, and creating opportunities for equality throughout our employment structure, work practices and the services we provide to candidates and clients, we hope to play our part in encouraging an equal playing field for all that makes a genuinely positive impact on the Social Housing sector and associated industries.
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