Friday 21st May 2021
In the week when Meghan Markle highlighted that “women, and especially women of colour, have seen a generation of economic gain wiped out” and called for “a pandemic recovery plan that supports women,” I became the new Chair of WISH (Women in Social Housing) for Yorkshire and Humberside. There’s never been a greater need for WISH. If women are to play a fuller role in our post-Covid-19 world, we need to ensure that women can connect, flourish and be their best selves. Our housing sector has for decades employed mainly women, whilst our boardrooms have been dominated by the men. That’s neither fair nor effective for our businesses. And we don’t need McKinsey to tell us yet again how diverse organisations perform best.
As a young(ish) housing sector executive, with two kids (3 and 4 years old), the last year has pushed me to my limits. I know I am not alone here!
As we step out from the shadow of Covid-19, recovery is vital for our economies, our businesses and ourselves as colleagues, family members and friends. Data shows women fared worse under Covid-19 — in terms, particularly, of employment, health and safeguarding outcomes.
With diversity comes greatness
Under the leadership of the new Managing Director, Helen Greig, WISH has recently restated our Vision and Purpose as:
Vision: a housing sector where everyone can flourish.
Purpose: using networking (and connections) in the housing sector to promote equality.
It’s about bringing a wide range of women together across the sector as a network to flourish — to connect, to share, to support, to grow, to learn and to collaborate. At South Yorkshire Housing Association we answer our why? question by saying “with SYHA you can settle at home, live well and realise your potential.” Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Think whole person. Think women!
WISH will support women to reach their full potential and by doing so enhance the housing sector. It’s about inclusion, diversity & growth — whatever your role and whatever your position. WISH is for those people starting their careers just as much as it’s for executives (and everyone in between!). And for anyone who might be reading this and thinking ‘I could never get involved with that’, we’re here to say that you absolutely can, and we are ready to welcome you with open arms (on Zoom for a little while longer).
As a sector we face increasing challenges — pandemic recovery plans, the green agenda, retrofitting, the rising cost of regulation, digital transformation, equality and diversity, consumer participation, development pressures. In the same way as women politicians provided much of the best leadership during the pandemic, many women are already leading the way tackling these housing challenges. They are critical to the sector’s success. Let’s fire on all cylinders.
So, does Meghan’s claim of a generation of economic gain being wiped out ring true for the housing sector? In terms of data, it’s probably too early to say. But, pre-covid-19, the housing sector gender pay gap stared us all in the face. Yes, it was lower than the national average, but women were still paid over 8% less than men, an increase on the year before. The housing sector’s glass ceiling may be cracked but it still gives you a nasty bruise and sends you reeling. In 2019 there were just 41% women NEDs and 40% women Exec Directors (Inside Housing) at a time when around 70% of staff were female.
Covid-19 has been a negative experience for women in so many ways. These include the overwhelming evidence of negative labour market consequences. According to McKinsey, mothers, black women and senior leaders are feeling the impact of Covid-19 hardest, with one in four senior women considering stepping out of or slowing down their careers. In addition, the pandemic has seen a rise in domestic abuse and women taking increased responsibility of unpaid care work.
In addition to retaining talented women in the sector, recruitment presents its own problems — how many women do you know who saw housing as their career of choice before joining the sector? Despite housing associations being ranked highly as employers and dominating the Sunday Times Top 100 Best 100 Not for Profits to Work For list, housing is poorly represented in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers’ list, featuring only via CharityWorks. We need to ensure that we are supporting the next generation of talent that is going to drive the sector forward and shouting about what a great career it is — for everyone.
How do women of colour fair in the housing sector? The National Housing Federation has produced the “Equality, diversity and inclusion” report which reviews diversity issues in relation to housing association staff. 7% of NEDs at the largest 50 housing associations were from BAME groups. A survey by the consultancy Altair of publicly available data suggests a much less representative picture, with only 5% of Executives drawn from BAME groups. The report found a general lack of data on other protected characteristics and intersectionality. For example, characteristics relating to age, marital status, pregnancy or religion did not appear in most housing association surveys.
Never a better time to join
Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work. For WISH — like most — this has led to a rapid pivot to digital.
This has meant that we have now expanded our offer, providing a brilliant series of National Webinars each month in addition to our regional events programme and networking. These are open to all members. You can see a full list of events here.
Our regional events will be a mix of digital and face to face. Themes will range from inspirational women speakers addressing key challenges faced by the sectors — Green Agenda, Race & Diversity, Consumer Participation — to leadership, career, health, wellbeing, and hopefully some fun. Not all our speakers will have a Yorkshire accent, but a good few of them will!
Underpinning all events will be a theme of networking and connections — this is what really sets WISH apart. Yorkshire and the Humber has a thriving housing sector that serves some brilliant and diverse communities. Having only been in my new role of Chair for two weeks, I have witnessed first-hand just what a difference the connections offered by the WISH network brings — learning, energy, empathy, collaboration and new ideas.
We are looking for Board Members who would like to join the fantastic WISH Yorkshire Board and we’d also like to welcome new corporate or individual members to join the WISH network. If this sounds like something you, or people you work with, would be interested in, there’s more information here — or just get in touch for a chat.
We’re really looking forward to reuniting with our members across the region, and meeting lots of new faces in the coming months. See you soon.