According to recent reporting, whilst women make up 46% of the UK workforce, housing associations boards (for example) comprise only about 35% women. Adding insult to injury, the gender pay gap is reported as somewhere north of 15%.
If this is the top down view, should we be surprised that the sector as a whole appears to have an issue around getting women into property?
How to change a sector that seems ill-equipped in providing an environment that is enabling rather than restrictive, that encourages women firstly to join, then to stay, deliver on their ability and earn their just reward?
Within the next two years, there are suggestions that women will make up a quarter of the UK’s construction and property workforce. Given that the current figure is around half that, there is some way to go.
With issues including flexible working environments, career progression and the pay gap affecting industries across the UK, how can the social housing sector address these issues and attract more women?
Maybe we should firstly explore what women want from work; albeit this is not exclusively about women, as there are others who experience the same. That said, women remain under represented in the sector.
What can be done to improve attraction, engagement and retention? And what are the practicalities of work, for instance around women returners and parental leave?
In a recent survey, women and men from across the sector responded to questions on education, skills, training, recruitment, retention and benefits. The majority of respondents were aged 25 to 44; of these 72% identified as female, 26% male and the remainder listed as other.
Analysis of the response showed that close to a third leave their jobs within two years, meaning employers lose some highly qualified and skilled people. Despite the significant number of female role models in the housing sector, barely one in eight women are in managerial roles, and three out of four do not have a mentor.
Mentoring is widely viewed as a core benefit and one that helps people (and their employers) achieve their goals, so it should be a concern that women are not benefitting from this important area of development.
Poor retention is a long-standing issue. Maybe housing employers suffering a continued loss of talent should be reviewing their policies around training, mentoring and career development to help in their retention and future attraction of talented women.
According to 80% of respondents, the majority of available jobs are still traditional full or part time. Modern practices don’t appear to be widely adopted, with just one in eight identifying their role as flexible, which doesn’t help those with family or personal commitments.
Reflecting back on the small percentage of women in managerial positions, there could be an inference that women struggle to sustain their career following any break for children, despite seeing flexible working as a benefit of choice, were it available.
That said, flexible working isn’t just about women returners. There is also discussion around flexible working for those who have no children (and empty nesters), and how it can work as a motivator to encourage and enable people to work more efficiently, with greater productivity, as well as reinforcing their loyalty to the employer.
The feedback endorses familiar themes. The questions are about how to tackle the issues. Employers need to address training, career development and flexibility in the housing sector.
Schools and universities already provide flexible working environments and breakout facilities. It makes sense that when the next generations enter the workplace, they will have similar expectations of flexibility.
Employers need to review their candidate attraction toolbox starting with schools, promoting property as a diverse and fulfilling professional path. This has to include creating better awareness of the variety of roles the sector offers (i.e. not just site based), in order to attract talent that would otherwise go elsewhere.
There are many positives in our property sector. Some housing organisations already have flexible working practices supporting a progressive culture that boosts retention.
However, to help themselves and their employers, women must have higher visibility within their own workplace and to the next generation.
The importance of both role models and sponsors seems to be low priority in the sector. Maybe that’s due to the number of younger people, particularly women who, out of a lack of awareness, understanding or even confidence, don’t consider a career in property or construction. Maybe we need more assistance through training and tutoring that promotes the sector and makes it more attractive.
In summary, there are many incredible female role models out there who can be the sector’s inspiration, but they cannot be solely responsible. The social housing sector itself needs to invest time and money building its profile as an attractive, progressive and flexible career option.
Pennington Choices provides recruitment services to organisations in social housing and knows what exceptional, qualified and remarkable candidates look like. We pride ourselves in being experts at recruiting underrepresented groups because we know what accomplished and qualified candidates look like, regardless of gender. To discuss recruitment with our People Resourcing expert, please email Chris Spencer.Back to blog