Diversity focus: Women at the top

Written by: Inside Housing
Published on: 24 Mar 2016


Last year, we discovered that 25% of chief executives of the largest 180 housing associations are women (Inside Housing salary survey, 11 September 2015). The results of our leadership survey seem to show that by expanding the net to include other executive-level posts, the representation of women rises dramatically.

The housing sector has already outpaced big business - in October 2015, women made up 26.1% of board members of FTSE 100 companies.

However, housing associations still have a long way to go before they reach gender parity in leadership. Notably, seven housing associations have no women at executive level. By contrast, only one housing association has an all-female executive team - Scottish Borders Housing Association. Even this is a temporary situation, due to a vacancy - soon to be filled by a male executive.

Representation at board level is slightly better, with 23 out of 100 boards reporting half or more of their members are women. No boards of the organisations that responded to our survey are entirely male.

However two - Magna Housing and WM Housing Group - have only one woman on their boards, both made up of eight people. Magna has one woman on its board and none at executive level.

Magna chief executive, Graham Colls, says: “The process of assessing applicants is done professionally and objectively, against the criteria which we specify. Magna simply wants to get the best people available.”

However, the experience of some of the more representative associations suggests that more active steps may be needed.

Barbara Walsh is chair of South Yorkshire Housing Group, one of the very rare associations with a majority of women across both executive (60%) and board level (58%). “We’ve had a diversity champion [on the board] for about nine years,” she says, and it is something that the board does pay attention to in recruitment. But, she adds: “We would always take the best person for the job. We’ve got to where we have got to because the best people have come forward.”

However, including different perspectives can be as valuable as ensuring that different skill sets are represented.

Ms Walsh observes: “If I was in a room with a whole lot of 60-year-old women, there would be such a common view of where the world was going.”