Thursday 1st November 2018
What do I see?
I work with a number of housing organisations, and it struck me that the majority of people attending my workshops are women. Now that’s not news to any of us, and having worked in the sector for over 15 years it’s not difficult to notice the numbers - yes some departments are the exception to that.
Many I speak to have worked in housing since leaving education, and in that time they’ve seen significant change; from working in local authorities, ALMOS and registered providers, to social and legislative change – most recently, Universal Credit. Their career path has been diverse, often starting in general housing then moving on to more specialist roles; not only giving them a wealth of experience, but developing a fundamental understanding to support others.
Some from the same start point have moved into leadership positions, many bringing ideas and experience from working in other housing organisations from different parts of the country.
Others are new to housing. Having chosen to make a move away from the commercial sector, they bring a different experience and fresh perspective to their new roles.
When talking with this cross section of women, it’s not all rose tinted glasses. Put them in a room and ask them to talk openly about the day to day challenges they face and you could struggle to stem the tide. But ask them too about their solutions, their ‘work arounds’ and you will hear, overwhelmingly, that they are happy to face the challenge; the difference they want to make, their creativity and success stories in helping people and the reasons they love coming to work.
Work challenges aside, many of the women I talk to are positive and feel supported; for some it’s about the opportunities available to them, for others their role is a healthy balance between work and family life through flexible working.
I spoke recently to a woman who has worked in housing for just a few years, having previously enjoyed twenty successful years in the commercial sector. She described her first few months in her new role as ‘a real eye opener’ and has experienced some challenges since starting. We talked about her decision to move into housing, and if she would make that same decision today.
‘I would still take this job’ she said.
We also talked about her reason why.
We all have a why don’t we? For most of us, it’s our reason for getting out of bed each morning.
Her answer? – ‘I love my job. I want to make a difference and I see that every day’
In the workshop she attended, with an open discussion from everyone around job challenges - yes, that word again - with plenty of anecdotes and humour, was this woman a lone voice in her response?
Unsurprisingly no – her colleagues, from a cross section of different roles, all agreed with her.
Typically when I explore this with women who have moved from a commercial role their driver is to use their knowledge and experience, not to create profit for shareholders; but instead to contribute for the benefit of others in social housing.
Collectively, women in housing from all backgrounds and career paths recognise these values, identify with them and that, at least in part, is their reason why.
Time and again I’m drawn back to the unique blend of women working in this sector; the golden thread is their commitment to a role where they can, and do, make a difference because of a strong connection to social values.
However, are enough women in housing reaching their true potential? Is tomorrow’s talent hiding in plain site? What I would like to see is more support in helping them to recognise their own capability in moving into leadership roles.
When I am working with women on career coaching and exploring possibilities, occasionally I will share details of a job opportunity and ask if it’s something they think they could do. Often, the response is to tell me all the reasons why they couldn’t. By comparison, a similar conversation with their male counterparts simply results in a yes or no, dependent on the salary level offered.
This blog isn’t about highlighting differences between men and women working in housing, neither is it a platform for equality; although it’s at least refreshing to note that 27% (49) of the 178 Housing CEOs are women, that compares to just 7% with the FTSE 100 companies.
What it is however is a celebration of the unique commitment I see from women to social values, helping people and building communities. Is there more work to do in supporting women in every role in housing? – Yes, of course.
In my own experience it’s to improve the level of support available, in part through continuous development; but also to create more opportunities and build on what is a unique pool of experience and talent - especially in those departments which are still an exception!
About the author
Janet is the owner of Just Libra Consulting. She works with a number of housing organisations and has a successful track record in developing and facilitating Leadership & Development, Organisational Change, Wellbeing and Employee Engagement programmes.
Her career experience includes senior Organisational Development roles with two housing associations, and within HR and Learning and Development with Barclays Bank.
She is also a board trustee of Lancashire Mind and a governor and trustee of Cavendish Academy, Special Education Academy in Halton.