Wednesday 4th March 2020

International Womens Day; the importance of heroes and she-roes

Take time out to reflect on International Women's Day, Sunday 8th March 2020, and read in this blog, from WISH Midlands' Chair, about the commitment needed for equality to prevail and how the housing sector could pave the way.

International Women's Day - Sunday 8th March 2020 - Time to reflect

Rebecca Clake - WISH Midlands, Chair

"How important is it to recognise our heroes and our she-roes” – Maya Angelou

International Women’s Day is that one day a year where many women take time out to properly reflect. They see the tweets of others celebrating the successes of women and highlighting the ever-present challenges.

A little trip down memory lane for me now and not all that long ago, I was being asked whether I could just “stick a pair of heels on for the meeting” and then take them off afterwards. Being pushed to be someone I wasn’t to look more “professional” and “credible”. Would this self-same advice have been given to a man? Probably not, the suit would do!

Thankfully, my newfound thick skin at the time inspired me to eventually go elsewhere and I found my home in housing. Since then, I have never looked back.

Since arriving in the sector I have been truly blessed by having some of the best role models possible around me or managing me. The best part of all of this, was that most of them were women. Most women don’t like to blow their own trumpets and celebrate their own success. Granted this is improving, but I think from speaking to women across the sector, especially those who are up and coming, it is still something that needs work. How do we inspire this confidence? Where do we get the belief from that we too could reach the top? She-roes that’s where.

I still vividly remember sitting at my first Women in Housing Awards (the fact this even exists is pretty epic) and listening intently to our then CIH president, Alison Inman. Here goes one of my favourite quotes: “we all remember the person that gave us a hand up, now don’t forget to give a hand up to those coming up behind you”. This is something that has echoed in my mind ever since and has left me thinking about my own role models and how I can be that helping hand to other women in the sector.

Some people may think this is all a bit cheesy and that we have moved on from times where women in senior roles are the minority. However, we don’t need to look very far to realise that the problem is still very real. The gender pay gap work revealed an average wage gap of 8.1% last year in the housing sector. The good news is that this gap is closing and we are seeing more women progressing into the top jobs, so guess what... more she-roes and more role models.

Now this problem isn’t unique to housing and our sector does out-perform a lot of commercial industries. But, I am firm believer that housing has the power to lead the way. Some of my she-roes aren’t just in the most senior roles, they are women in all roles across the sector who are smashing it every day, doing the best job possible for the people that live in our homes.

So that hand up that we all need to give, might actually just be a high-five to a colleague who has been the best version of themselves and done an amazing job. It could be a friendly hug when things haven’t gone to plan, when something didn’t work or maybe they didn’t get that promotion.

This job can’t fall to women and women alone. Whist the divide remains so prevalent, it is vital that we always have our male counterparts supporting women just as much. This can happen in so many ways, really simple ways in fact. Lots of organisations across the sector are creating more and more opportunities for women to progress by offering things like flexible working, ideal for women with young families and other commitments. We are also seeing increasing numbers of employers looking to grow their own with ambitious internal development programmes. Looking to headhunt from within, growing talent through apprenticeship programmes in their customer service centres and other frontline roles that are often disproportionately held by female colleagues.

So, when one of the greatest feminists of all time Maya Angelou said “how important it is that we recognise our heroes and our she-roes” she was spot on. With such a long way still to go to reach true equality, this requires commitment on both sides. If we can offer that helping hand, that bit of confidence to another woman, then let’s do it, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day. Let’s make housing the example that paves the way.

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