Diversity must be built into our foundation

May 15, 2018 / Keith Osborne
Diversity must be built into our foundation

Striving for gender equality in the workplace is a moral obligation. But the end result can be better decision-making and stronger governance, too, says Rachel Credidio, group people and transformation director at Aster Group…

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of a law that allowed some women to vote in the UK for the first time. But a century on from one of the most important landmarks in the battle for gender equality, how much progress has been made on this issue in the housing sector?

The History of Parliament Trust’s Vote 100 campaign, commemorating the anniversary, provides a good opportunity to take stock and assess where we are and what else needs to be done.

We are an official partner of the campaign and are supporting its important mission to ensure gender equality remains front of mind across the country. Our aim is to raise Vote 100’s profile in the housing sector, as well as use it as a platform for our own internal programme that engages employees and highlights the significance of the 1918 legislation.

April’s gender pay gap deadline was another timely reminder that Vote 100’s wider equality mission is still incredibly vital. The figures from our sector, though by no means the worst, showed that there is work to be done.

Housebuilding is traditionally an industry that struggles to attract female workers, so it’s not overly surprising that this is where some of our sector’s widest pay gaps are found.

In many respects, social housing is at an advantage. The gender split in general is more equal for housing associations, possibly because of the wider range of job roles that social housing offers. But we’re not perfect either and one of the main challenges that housing associations face is ensuring that gender representation makes it all the way to the top. I’d be confident in saying that most organisations are offering equal pay for equal work, and have been doing so for some time. But we are not immune to the broader societal issues affecting women in the workplace.

Aster has a mean gender pay gap of 20.3%, slightly above the UK average of 18.4%. Our mission is to consistently reduce this every year for the next five years. For some time we have promoted a more flexible approach to work and we will continue to build this and explore new ways to bring more gender balance to our team. Fundamental to this is meeting a systemic challenge for much of the business world, and for our sector – male-dominated boards and executive teams.

We believe that an inclusive and diverse culture starts from the top. Currently, three out of seven members of our executive board are women – a key reason why we were invited to support Vote 100. We also have two female non-executive directors and are working hard to ensure a more proportional split on our various committees.

Having more women at the top is vital. Yes, it will help businesses to reduce their pay gap, but more importantly it will inspire a greater number of women into housing-related professions.

So why is this so important to me, and to Aster? First of all, we share a desire with the majority of the sector to be ethical and fair in everything we do. I believe that the role housing associations play makes it our obligation to take a leadership position on this.

But there are also major business benefits, in any industry, to a more diverse workforce. Global management consultancy McKinsey’s study on this subject showed that increased diversity improves decision-making. These boards better represent society and better understand customer groups. It also pointed out that doing so fosters talent across the rest of a business by providing strong role models from different genders and backgrounds. Ultimately, the more perspectives, backgrounds and experiences we can incorporate into our business, the better an incubator for innovation we will be.

This is why we’re not limiting our drive for diversity to just gender, ethnicity or sexuality. For instance, we’re currently assessing all our job roles to see if it is really necessary to have a degree to do it. This is allowing us to access talent from a wider variety of educational and vocational pathways, such as apprenticeships.

The housing sector is under increasing pressure to deliver more homes. At the same time, a UK-wide skills shortage is making this even more challenging. Engaging a wider, more diverse talent pool is central to addressing these issues. Striving for more equality is ethically right, of course, but it’s also an operational necessity.

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