Succession Planning

Last month I attended the CIH Housing Festival in Cardiff. It was really good. It was different. I also attended the HQN annual conference in London the following week which was also good, but more in the format you would expect conference to be.

At both of these conferences I spoke about succession planning in the sector. In Cardiff, I put myself forward for the Soapbox session, which was basically a self indulgent rant. I was invited to speak at the HQN conference due to winning the CIH Rising Stars competition last year.

I know nothing about succession planning aside from my own personal experience and of those around me. So this is my experience, my thoughts and specifically my opinion (enter disclaimer here).
It’s well known in the sector that a significant proportion our upper tier of leaders will be retiring within the next 5 – 10 years. Are we doing enough to impart their skills and knowledge onto the next generation of leaders? I don’t think we are.

Let me ask you a question or two….

How many managers do you know that have been in their jobs for more than 10 years with no interest of progressing themselves or their careers?
How many people do you know that are quite open about waiting for retirement (regardless of age)?
How many people do you know are really passionate to achieve but are never given the opportunity?
How many people have been promoted due to being the safe option?

For the first two questions, there are two possible answers in my opinion. The first is a positive. We need stable, strong and reliable people to make a business successful. These are the people that are the cogs of the machine, the survivors. The ones that give more of a toss about their own time, their hobbies, their families. They work to live. And I wish I was like this – so badly.

This reminds me of something my Grandad has said on several occasions. He recently retired from his engineering job at the age of 76. He was one of the bosses for a site owned by the biggest oil company in the world, and he worked damn hard to get there. He always used to talk about the ticket man at Wareham train station. My Grandad knew him from when he first moved to Dorset as a teenager to when that ticket man retired. He had that job the whole of his working life. He would go to work, man the ticket desk then go home. The same thing every day. But the ticket man was the happiest man that my Grandad knew and he always said that he was envious of how such a simple existence made this man so content with his life.

The second answer is more concerning. I mentioned the Peter Principle in my rant at the Housing Festival. This is where people are promoted based on their ability in their current role, not the potential they have to carry out a role at the next level. They stop being promoted once they reach a level where they an no longer perform effectively and they stay there. This happens absolutely everywhere. But can the housing sector afford this to happen when the challenges are becoming so complex?

We need innovation and strong leadership, so there are barriers already in place for those that have the skills and desire to progress. This isn’t the rule of course, there are many great and inspiring leaders in posts around the country.

I’m going to skip a question for the moment and go onto the one about people being promoted as the safe option. We’ve all known it to happen. They may be an employee that doesn’t necessarily set the world on fire, but they’re reliable and knowledgeable. Sometimes, especially with internal roles, it’s on time served within the organisation or the cultural mentality of “we’ve always done it this way” this person fits.

Another story on this point. My husband had a conversation with a Director about the recruitment of a new Quality Manager in their organisation. After being with me every step of the way on my career journey so far, he asked them; “what was the thinking behind the recruitment of this role?”. The Director honestly responded (this is obviously not verbatim as it is second hand, but for the purpose of making it more interesting, pretend that the following words come from an extremely good and successful Director of a large international company):

“After the interviews we were down to two people to decide between. One was a man who had worked as a Quality Manager for several decades for another company and had been made redundant. He was pleasant and knowledgeable and knew the industry. The second was newly qualified. He had put himself through his education and did all the extra curricular activities you could think of to gain as much experience as possible. He was so passionate and keen, but he hadn’t had much experience of working in engineering, due to his age and us being qualified. If he was given the opportunity, there was no doubt in my mind that within a year or so he would have been a fantastic Quality Manager and an asset to our company. However, we went with the more experienced guy. We needed someone who was going to come in and hit the ground running with minimal training as we needed stability and reliability, of which this guy proved he had on paper.” True story.

It quickly transpired that the guy that was taken on had reached his level of incompetency in his previous role and did not last his probation period in the new company(his choice).

Would you have chosen differently? Who’s to say. But this happens so often. I wonder how that younger guy felt being rejected despite doing absolutely everything he could to be given an opportunity? I don’t have to because I know.

Which brings me onto the next question – how many people do you know are like the newly qualified Quality Manager?

Aside from myself, I know a few. I read a book recently called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It was a good book which studied success, to a point. The conclusion was that luck and opportunity played a equal if not more of a part as to whether someone is successful or not.

This is true in the wider context of income for example, with poorer people having less opportunities than wealthier people. A crude example I know so forgive me.

As a sector we need to actively make these opportunities. This is for several reasons. Firstly, it stops people like me whinging. In seriousness though, how many organisations lose staff because they are not maximising their potential? Not to make it too personal, but I struggled to find anything but entry level roles when I first moved to Wales. I was happy to do that of course, but I was getting rejected over and over again. I was applying for managers roles and getting shortlisted then not getting the role due to not having enough management experience (even though I volunteered in my spare time and did two successful secondments managing teams – both were redundant due to the rent reduction). I then applied for Housing Officer roles but wasn’t getting those either, despite being fully qualified, having over a decade of experience, being the CIH rising star and having outstanding references.

When I got my current job, I was so shocked. My current manager even said that he would make the most of me while I was there as I wouldn’t be there long. I don’t quite believe him due to my shattered confidence and the horrific impostor syndrome that I’ve developed. I’m working on that though, I’m back on Twitter and applying to join a board.

I’ve tried to be like the ticket man but it’s just not me. And it’s not just selfish reasons, I promise. I want to change the bloody world and make a difference to as many people as possible. It’s satisfying changing one life at a time but how many more lives can you change if you had a say in the direction of the sector?

Phew, that got personal!

I think the point that I’m trying to make is it prudent to take a chance on someone. It could be the best decision you make.

Secondly, there are some people that just have less opportunities in society that could and would be an absolute asset to a sector that requires such diverse skill sets. We as a sector are not representative of our customers when it comes to BME for example. I don’t know the answer to this but we need ideas as to how to make the sector more diverse.

There is a change coming with things like the CIH Futures panel and the passionate people in the sector that are in it to make a difference. But this needs to be harnessed and encouraged by our current leaders to ensure that these people do not become jaded.

We’re the next generation and most of us work in housing with a social heart but commercial knowledge and realistic expectations. It’s what we need to ensure that there is still social housing when our children (or future children) grow up.

Speaking of the CIH….

Last week, as the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) celebrated their 100th birthday, I had the terrifying opportunity to speak at the CIH London and South East event at City Hall.
It was an honour to meet some amazing and passionate professionals and to share a platform with such brilliant and successful women as Anne Chapman and Kate Dodson.
I was invited to talk about the housing challenge our sector is facing and the impact we can have as housing professionals.
Everyone is well aware we’re in a housing crisis. The impact of welfare reform, the increase in homelessness and soaring house prices are all putting pressure on social housing providers.
The way that we develop and deliver social housing is changing – some may argue that with the necessity of profit making activities and the pressure to deliver more homes without subsidy is increasingly resulting in social housing providers becoming more commercial in their ways of operating than ever before.
In these challenging times, I want to share my experience of the value of CIH membership and how important I feel it is moving forward.
Like many of us, I fell into housing. I have been a member of the CIH for a number of years, starting when I completed my level 3 certificate in housing practice. I had just been given a secondment opportunity to a housing officer role, and wanted to broaden my knowledge and skill set to help me be better at my job.
Following completing the level 3, a chance meeting with the then chair of the CIH SW board resulted in me successfully applying for a CIH bursary for my level 4 certificate. The qualifications are hugely valuable, but the value to individuals and organisations is so much more than that.
I found that it opened my eyes to the wider perspective of housing. It’s so easy to get bogged down in your day job – going from one task to the next. Being a CIH member has completely broadened my horizons to the wider impact that I can personally have on the sector. It has enabled me to think more strategically and has given me huge confidence to share my experiences and views on how to meet the challenges that we’re facing.
This is one of the reasons that I believe CIH membership is so important to organisations. Every one of us working in the sector is contributing to the way our society is changing. I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and learn from them – which would never have happened without the CIH.
The CIH also play a big role in shaping our profession; and we’re a profession that can’t agree as to whether we are a profession or not! But we are a profession – a diverse one, a rewarding one and an important one. Going forward, we need to promote housing as a career of choice and harness the talent that is already in the sector to ensure that the future leaders are given opportunities to learn and grow – enter the CIH!
Personally for me, one of my biggest concerns moving forward is the risk of housing providers losing their social purpose under the strain of the lack of appropriate subsidy. The only way that we won’t lose this is by having passionate, socially minded people working in the sector to ensure that this doesn’t get lost. We have a huge responsibility as housing providers to ensure that that housing needs are met – the impact that we have on wider society is so huge that we must keep hold of the core values as to why we’re here in the first place.
This is why the CIH is so important in these challenging times. We need to learn from each other, and the CIH enables us to do that. We need good standards set and best practice. Most of all we need to enable passionate people to drive the sector forward.

Winning the Inside Housing & CIH Competition 2016

On 27th June 2016, I was announced as the winner of the CIH and Inside Housing Rising Stars 2016 competition. The competition was really tough; I was up against three other very talented finalists, and did not expect to win. So, this blog post is a little bit about the journey, and what being the CIH & Inside Housing Rising Star 2016 means to me.

The journey started in March this year when I submitted my essay. I saw the competition in Inside Housing and entered it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was at that time, coming to the end of a temporary secondment as a Neighbourhood Team Manager, which I loved. It had given me the confidence and self belief to put myself out there, and in the spirit of being brave, I thought; what have I got to lose? Secondly, I am very passionate about our sector and the difference we make to people, coupled with being ridiculously ambitious.

The whole competition was an extraordinary experience and one that I am truly grateful for. The tasks were interesting and diverse, which captured the difficult challenges that we are going to be facing now and in the future.

In hindsight, the whole theme for me personally was the same thoughts I had when I entered: to be brave. It forced me to be pushed outside of my comfort zone in the most amazing and rewarding way. It made me question, it made me challenge myself and it reminded me of the huge passion that people in the sector have for making this a better place for now and the future. It’s a sector that I’m immensely proud to be a part of.

In the ethics interview task, I was asked a question about pushing the boundaries of procedure to potentially ‘do the right thing’. My response was that this type of thing is the reason I want to progress in my career, to change the things that aren’t working as they should. Also, the task in Shipley, where we presented to a group of GEM students, inspired me more so to want to be a good leader and to embrace young talent and promote housing as a career of choice. I feel that the competition has given me a great platform to go on and do this.

On 27th June 2016, I really wasn’t expecting to win. Of course I wanted to, as I’m sure we all did; but I had already gained so much from the experience that regardless of who won the title, no one had lost out from the competition. When my name was announced though, I said a very bad word in shock and saw our Director of Neighbourhoods cheering like he had done when Leicester had one the Premiership just a few weeks before. It was a good distraction on the long walk up to the stage!

Winning the competition means a huge amount to me, and it is an opportunity that I am certainly not going to waste. The fact that it has raised my profile in the sector is only beneficial at a time when I am looking to progress my career. The opportunity to learn from a senior mentor along with the other people that I have met in the last few months is also immensely exciting.

In the next year, I am going to continue to be brave and grasp every opportunity available with both hands. Fortune favours the brave, and you’re capable of so much more than you think – trust me, I now know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first Unconference – Housing Camp Cymru

So yesterday I attended my first ever unconference – Housing Camp Cymru in Cardiff. I saw the event advertised on Twitter and had never heard of such a thing before. Basically, it looked like an event where people working in housing spent the day talking about housing. I am passionate about housing and love working in the sector, and am also moving to Wales in the coming months, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to speak to other housing professionals and especially learn some of the differences in delivering social housing services between Wales and England.

I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest. I was nervous though. I walked in and was met by two lovely, smiley ladies carrying out the registration. I grabbed a cup of tea and scouted for an empty seat in the welcome area.

I spotted Neil, who I vaguely recognised from Twitter, imposed myself on him and we got chatting. Neil’s from Stratford, which made me feel a bit better (I was worried about being the only English person there…not that I should have been worried, everyone was lovely!).

We all then went into the main hall, where we were briefed about the day. The jist is that there are timed sessions – one in the morning and two in the afternoon – and the agenda for the day is decide by the people there. Everyone was encouraged to move sessions if they weren’t getting out of them what they wanted.

Once the day was explained by Cheryl and Esko, everyone in the room introduced themselves. Now I hate doing this. I get tongue tied, and shaky when standing up in front of a room of people  I don’t know. However, I needn’t have worried as it was fine!

Then we were invited to pitch ideas to discuss throughout the day. I wanted to talk about supported housing, and was desperately hoping that someone else would pitch something along these lines so I didn’t have to stand at the front. The pitches were interesting and varied. Examples were; co-production, communication, increase in racial attacks, Brexit (obvs),using data, resident engagement, accessible housing and mapping.

The line for pitching was getting smaller, so I bit the bullet and stood up. I shakily pitched that I would like to discuss delivering supported housing services in an increasingly challenging environment. I saw a smile from a chap at the back, and thought at least one person may join me in having a chat about it!

The lovely organisers then organised the ideas into the session times. My pitch idea was in the morning, and I was quite surprised when there were 10 of us! We chatted about our different experiences from different aspects. I learnt so much, and it was great to be able to discuss my passion with people that were equally as passionate. There was such a diverse mix of people. The chap with the smile, Harry, had moved to Wales recently (turns out we came from the same part of the world, worked for organisations that were merging and are both selling our shared ownership homes) and was working in supported housing. I realised quite quickly that the Welsh professionals knew a lot more about English housing policy than I knew about Welsh housing policy. However, shout outs to Julie and Anne, who explained to me certain things, without making me feel like an outsider.

After the session we had some lunch. I  sat with Harry, Will and Jonny (who taught me some Welsh – I’m still practising the one phrase!). We were talking about the unconference and whether it would work in England. To be honest I’m not sure it would. There was something so united and passionate about the people in Cardiff that day, and I was shocked about the amount of people who gave up their Saturday to talk about housing. It was great.

The afternoon sessions I attended were Graham’s pitch on inclusive housing for disabled people. We talked about development and silo’s, funding streams, sustainability and lifetime homes. Graham has been campaigning for this for 25 years and had some shocking information about the cost and impact that inappropriate housing has on the NHS for example.

After coffee, I then attended Julie’s session on managing new tenancies. It was interesting to compare the different ways of working.

Throughout the sessions,  some people left and joined and this was cool. Some people were vocal and some just absorbed the information. The main thing was that it was so relaxed and friendly, and I felt welcome and at ease.

I honestly had a great day. I learnt loads, got to chat about things I’m passionate about and met some great people. It went so quickly, and before I knew it, we were having a (free!) pint at the end.

It’s made me even more excited about my move to Wales. I came away from the day absolutely buzzing. It was organised well, it was friendly and it was informative. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in housing to go, even if you’re not Welsh! Because, (stealing my Scottish friend Evie’s quote); housing people are bloody lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Increased Risk?

A tweet from Boris Worrall this week made me think about social landlords role in situations that used to picked up by ever-shrinking support services, and how this will work as housing providers continue to be pushed towards more commercial objectives. Boris tweeted about an elderly tenant who couldn’t cope with her home, so they, as a social landlord, stepped in to help. This is so common and is becoming more so. I had the same situation just last week.

As a sector, we experience many aspects of human life, and it’s not always pretty. Sometimes it dark, tragic and deviant. I think it is important to be reminded of this when we are talking about the future of the sector, because these things will become more and more prevalent in society if we lose a grip on our social purpose.

With huge cuts to services such as supporting people funding, social services and mental health teams, is it our responsibility to fill these gaps? And are we putting ourselves as individuals more at risk, knowing that the support from these other agencies has been greatly reduced?

In housing, frontline staff (I’m mostly going to refer to Housing Officers, but that does not mean that this is exclusive to that role) go into situations, often alone, that puts them at risk. We have to. It’s our job. But many of us do it because we want to help people. We do it because sometimes there is no one else.

My worry is that the risk will get higher and our ability to step in or signpost those people that genuinely need help will reduce.

The reduction in capacity of support services and the increased commercialisation of social housing providers could result in an expanding crevice of not only poverty but of despair. Those people that social landlords do not have the skills to fully deal with but that don’t meet the increasingly stricter qualifying criteria for specialist help. It’s those people that disengage with services that services don’t have the capacity or the resources to chase them. Not only that, but those that want help but just aren’t in high enough need. And this doesn’t just apply to mental health but to homelessness, and other problems in our society.

It’s a crevice that few want to go near – the ‘no mans land’ hole between social housing providers and  support services.  Those that do try to bridge it from either side, will find it increasingly difficult as it inevitably grows wider.

I worry that what were prevented situations when times were good and services were funded, will become the preventable tragedies in the future. And the increased risk element is only a tiny fraction of the bigger issue here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rising Stars Blog – Unedited

Reflecting back on the Rising Stars competition over the last couple of months, I have learnt so much and had my eyes opened to the bigger picture beyond Dorset, for which I am so grateful. I’ve met some amazing people, had my network grow, and even started blogging! I applied originally as I am ambitious and passionate about what we do as a sector and my small part in it. I’m always looking to learn more and better myself as a professional, and this experience has certainly done that for me.

The three tasks have been challenging but really enjoyable. The Twitter Q&A was an absolute baptism of fire, just down to the pace of the questions coming in! It felt like the quickest hour ever and I was a little ‘housing’ star struck by the tweets coming in from the figure heads of the sector.

The visit to Incommunities housing in Shipley to present to a group of GEM students our strategy to encourage young people into housing was my favourite task. It was great being able to talk about my experiences. Working with Evie making it a ‘boys versus girls’ challenge, added an extra bit of competitive fun. This was the first time that we as finalists all met each other, which was when I realised how tough a competition this was. I actually felt a bit out of my depth at this point. We are all so different but have one thing in common, which is that we are passionate about housing and want to make a difference. I don’t think it’s just a job for any of us.

The third task was an ethics interview in London which was tough, with lots of difficult questions being asked that certainly challenged me! I had no choice but to be myself and told the interviewers about what I class as my defining moment in my career so far. It’s quite personal and hard to tell, but it’s important to recognise that we face many challenges in this sector day to day. I’ve come so far in myself since then and the competition has pushed me even further.

I’ve been blown away by the support of everyone at Spectrum Housing, and feel proud to be representing my employer – I’m certainly not the only rising star that works there. Even if the work intranet is now known in the local office is ‘It’s all about Alice’!

Of course I’d love to win the competition as we all would. To be honest, there’s no one that doesn’t deserve to be here which makes it a hard choice. But my shameless plug is to ask you to #VoteAlice, as I’m not quite ready for this journey to end yet.

Am I My Own Personal Brand?

It’s Sunday night, and tomorrow I am going to London for the third task of my Rising Stars journey. The whole experience so far has been amazing. I have had my eyes opened to such a vast amount of information, people and experiences. It’s been fast paced though, which is why I’ve had a moment to reflect on the whole thing so far on this incredibly chilled weekend spent with my hubby and family.

So, why am I writing this post? Well, one of the things that I have been introduced to through the Rising Stars competition is Twitter.

On the Twitter Q&A debate last month (one of the competition tasks), we were asked by Asif Choudry of Comms Hero: is it important to have a brand? My answer was that I felt it was more important to be yourself than to have a brand. Asif replied that I am my own personal brand. And this has got me thinking, especially over the last few weeks as my Twitter following has gotten greater and my profile is being raised.

Am I my own personal brand? And if so, why is it so important? I actually think that what is happening in this digital age is bigger than that, and for every bit of good social media does for a person or a company, there is an equal amount of risk.

Social media is a wonderful tool. But like any good tool, it depends on whose hand it is in. Take a hammer for example, you could use it to build a shed or stave someone’s head in; it’s still the same tool.

I will be honest here. I love Twitter. But it’s made me feel a pressure that I haven’t felt before, and that’s not just because I’m in a competition. I have a Facebook account with about 50 friends on it. I used to have around 700 friends on there, but decided that I didn’t want people that I hardly knew knowing my business. On Facebook, I post pictures of my cats, my holidays my silly thoughts, and photos that I find funny. I joked to one of my colleagues that she only survived the Facebook cull because she constantly posts funny cat videos. I also have LinkedIn, where people can look at my professional profile. I want people to see this side of me, so is that my brand?

It’s a long standing joke in my family that there is ‘Public Alice’ and ‘Private Alice’. My older brother tells me all the time that he’s amazed that I essentially trick people with my professional façade. The truth is that Public Alice is my game face, it’s my professional face, because I love my job and take it very seriously. Private Alice isn’t that much different, just a lot more fun. And only a handful of people know Private Alice, because I feel it is important to keep aspects of myself for me and my nearest and dearest. In my job, you essentially have to give a little bit of yourself away a lot of the time. And it’s worth it, because I believe in what I do. But if I’m my own personal brand, how much do I give away for all to see?

So, this pressure I’ve been feeling about Twitter. I have been in Housing for nearly 11 years now, and I have always been very principled in getting to where I want to be on merit. Which is why I’m quite conflicted. Which is also one of the reasons as to why I’m writing this post. I have been given a platform, meaning that some of the industry’s finest can have an insight into my views and opinions. I have to watch my p’s and q’s. And I don’t want to come across as an idiot.

I don’t have a lot of followers, and there’s the competitive part of me that wants as many as possible. But Public Alice isn’t that interesting. Also, how far do I go? Do people want to know what I’m doing all of the time? Do they want to know my thoughts on Brexit, or the Housing Bill or why I decided to wear a dress to work instead of a shirt and trousers? I see other people posting things that are smart, and witty and important, and does it make me look less of a professional by keeping quiet or posting about Derby County losing in the playoffs?

It’s incredibly important to me to have my down time, and the Twitter pressure has kind of meant that I don’t have that as much now. It’s on my phone, so I’ve invited it in to follow me wherever I go. I know though, that as part of the Rising Stars competition, I’ve been given this wonderful gift of exposure to enable me to promote myself, the company that I work for and to portray my passion to a wider audience.

Social media is a tool that is increasingly important. Especially for engaging with people. There’s no doubt that using social media is and will be incredibly effective in promoting housing as a profession, to spread news of the good work we do and to sell homes. But as professionals, we’re giving more and more of ourselves away, and will we be sacrificing too much? We still need to be effective in the day job.

I know that some companies encourage their staff to Tweet about their jobs. My Twitter feed is full of trades staff from Spectrum Property Care tweeting pictures of the great work they do. It raises the company’s profile and it makes for an attractive employer. But what happens if you get a disgruntled employee that goes rogue? Reputation in industry is incredibly important, and someone’s negative opinion is then out in the ether for all to see.

Aligning your personal brand to a company brand comes with an awful amount of responsibility.

A brand is important, but it depends on your audience. I’m pretty sure that my personal brand is whatever I want to it to be. For when I’m at work it’s ‘Public Alice’. But ‘Public Alice’ has boundaries of essentially Monday to Friday. These lines have now been blurred. Maybe I need Asif’s guidance as to how I keep ‘Private Alice’ under wraps. However, she does come out to all to see after a couple of glasses of wine….

 

 

 

 

Rising Stars 2016 Essay

What lessons should housing professionals learn from the past, and how will this help the sector adapt in the future?

Gender equality is something that I’m passionate about. I believe that everyone should be enabled to achieve the same opportunities in life, and this applies to us as housing professionals and the customers that we are here to provide services to. I think the main thing to recognise is that although things have gotten drastically better for women in recent years, we’re still not quite there yet in terms of equality.

Culturally there are still gender roles to some extent, but as little as 30 years ago, this was more apparent than ever. Women were, and still are, the majority of primary care givers; looking after children and bringing up the next generation. They predominantly worked lower paid roles such as clerical and administration jobs, and often experienced sexism and belittlement if they wanted a fulfilling career.

We know that women can achieve more than this if they choose to, but there is little argument to oppose that they faced more challenges along the way in the past. Some would argue that it is still more challenging for women today to progress in their careers.

In 1968, women working for the Ford factory in Dagenham went on strike to protest about the lack of equal pay. This meant that the production of Ford cars in the UK ground to a halt. So what can we learn from this? We need women in any industry. We need their skills and their abilities.

It was strong women who advocated for change in housing and pioneered the sector, shaping it into what it is today. Women such as Octavia Hill who inspired the creation of The Association of Women Housing Workers in 1916, which is now the Chartered Institute of Housing. To put this in perspective, this organisation was set up a decade before women had the right to vote. And Erin Pizzey, who in 1971 set up the first women’s refuge for those suffering from domestic abuse.

Margaret Thatcher had a huge impact on housing, and although I believe that the mass selling of council homes was a mistake that is sadly being repeated, there is no doubt she shaped the sector.

I read an article in Inside Housing called ‘Women on Top’, where the 25 most powerful women in the sector were interviewed about their experiences. One comment resonated with me, which was that women tend to have less self belief than men when it came to progressing to the top of their sector. I wondered, why? Especially when the aforementioned women had such an impact on this sector and these women being interviewed had achieved so much themselves. I came to the conclusion that it was because we still live in a society where women are still gender stereotyped to a degree, and are therefore massively under represented at executive level.

When we have a female population of just over 50% in the UK, why is it that 75% of Chief Executives in housing are male? It also struck me that 18 of these 25 amazing women specified whether they did or did not have children. Would the 25 most powerful men in housing feel it necessary to divulge this information? I’m not convinced they would. With the potential likelihood of a female President of the United States will women in our profession rise to the same level and equal men at the higher levels in the future?

We know from the past that diversity in society is essential for sustainability, and this is the same for gender equality. The more diverse sets of skills that an organisation has, the further we can go and the more we can achieve. We need to ensure that our customers are truly represented in our organisations, in our staff, boards and resident involvement. If the fundamentals are not reflective of the customers then how can we deliver a good and fair service?

Gender equality is even more vital for the future and the challenges the sector is facing. We need to be more stringent on our finances whilst still delivering desperately needed services, and we can achieve better value for money by directing these resources in the best way possible by having as much diversity and reflective representation as possible.

We have the opportunity to be an exemplary sector in gender equality. In my experience, housing management roles tends to attract more female workers, and with the huge challenges that housing will be facing with new policies and proposed deregulation, these workers are going to experience a whole host of new problems to solve. These new skills are what will drive the sector forward, and we need to be creative to keep hold of these women. For example, ukfeminsta.org.uk states that “54% of women working part-time have been found to be employed below their potential”. We need to look at ensuring that this potential is maximised in the future, and if it means a job share at executive level for example, then why not?

Idealistically, a quota system could be used in recruiting for executive positions, much like the Swedish Government’s initiative to promote females to ensure fair representation. This could be business wide to promote fair representation throughout the lower levels of the organisations where there are less male workers for example.

Realistically, we need to ensure that everyone is given the same opportunities without discrimination. This means enabling more women to progress by increased flexible working, filling skill gaps by education and training, and assistance with childcare for example.

I will conclude with a quote, from a man no less. Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan once said: “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

Empowered women achieve great things. They have done so in the past and they will be essential in moving the sector forward in the future.

 

My Shared Ownership Experience

I have always been incredibly independent, impatient and excitable when it comes to doing my own thing. This was especially true about leaving home. Don’t get me wrong – living at home with mum, dad and my three brothers was great; I was (and still am) extremely lucky to have a wonderful family that have always loved and supported me.

I just wanted to get out there and be the grown up that I knew I was.

At the age of 20 I was working for a small housing association as an admin assistant after dropping out of Uni and trying various temporary and retail jobs that just weren’t for me. I didn’t earn much at all – and definitely not enough to get my own place. I spent my money on clothes, going out with friends and paying the token amount of rent that mum and dad charged me.  At this point in time, home ownership was a distant aspiration for me and one that I wasn’t convinced I would ever achieve.

So, fast forward a few months when I managed to secure a secondment role as a Housing Officer. This meant a pay rise….to £19,000 per year….a fortune to me! The first thing I did was to look to move out of home into rented accommodation, and that I did.

It was a tiny two bed second floor flat in the middle of town which I shared with my friend Mark. As I had twisted his arm into moving out of home too, I forfeited the big room to ensure I had someone to help with the bills. I managed to squeeze a small bed and a chest of drawers into that little room, and I still had space to close the door – just.

The flat was damp, it was cold, and running it ate up most of my wages every month, but I was so happy to have my own space. This was until Mark decided that he wanted to move back home after only 4 months. Mass panic ensued, until one of my brother’s friends, Tom, got kicked out of home and took up my offer of the big room in my mouldy and expensive home (he didn’t have much of an option at the time).

Tom and I had an absolute blast in that place for about a year. We were both skint all the time, so were living on poached eggs on toast and spending the weekends having friends over and getting drunk on cheap vodka.

When Tom got himself a serious girlfriend, I started to think about what I was going to do long term. I knew that the current situation was never going to continue forever and by this time I had started to resent spending all of my money on renting a home that was, especially in hindsight, pretty horrible.

I was at work when one of my colleagues and her husband were offered a shared ownership house. I remember asking her about it, knowing that she didn’t earn a dissimilar wage to me. She told me to join the housing register initially and to log my details with South West Homes, which I did. Then I just kind of forgot about it.

One day, I  got home and there was a leaflet from Magna Housing Association about some one bed properties that they were building in the area for shared ownership sale. They were having a drop in event at the local Council, so I thought I would swing by and find out some more information. At this point in time, I still didn’t have a full understanding of what it was, just that I would get on the property ladder if I were lucky enough to be able to afford one.

The guy from Magna was super helpful, and sold me  the idea of owning one of these amazing flats without too much effort, so that got the ball rolling. I signed up to express an interest and was given the details of their approved financial advisor.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I was still skint. The savings that I had before I moved out of home had dwindled to the £600 mark, which was no where near enough for a deposit on a home. Another thing to add though, was that this was 2007, and things were pretty good for borrowers at this time.

I called the financial advisor, and she visited me at my flat. She was amazing. She sat there scribbling away, then made some phone calls, and then told me that I could get an 100% mortgage for up to £65,000.

Things were changing though. Northern Rock had just gone under and developers were starting to struggle to sell their properties. As were Housing Associations.

I had decided to pursue the one bed flat with Magna, when not long after my visit from he financial advisor, I had a call from a colleague of mine telling me about some new shared ownership properties that were on the market with Raglan Housing. They were in my preferred area and there were two bedroom flats going, with the small ones being sold for £63,000 for a 40% share – which I could afford!

So I put in for one of those, and was extremely shocked and elated when I received a call saying that I was successful. I was so lucky. Not only that, but I received my mortgage promise literally a week before 100% mortgages were withdrawn by most lenders.

I accepted the flat without even looking at it. I was bottom of the list for the six that were available, and four were out of my price range, so I didn’t get a choice. I was offered a ground floor two bedroom flat. When I went to view it, I vividly remember the overwhelming feeling of joy, that went straight from my stomach up to my eyes that just made me sob with pure happiness. It was perfect. I couldn’t believe that it would be my home.

There were a couple of snagging points along the way. Firstly, the fact that I just fell short of the affordability criteria. My job had just become permanent though and this was March 2008 by this point. This meant I was due a pay rise in the April and my boss at the time pulled all the strings he could with HR to get the information to Raglan Housing that I would be earning an extra £500 per year in the next month to put me just within that bracket. Secondly, I had to move back home for a month to use the extra money to pay for fees, and my wonderful parents gave me £1000 to pay the solicitors. But, in July 2008, single and having just turned 23, I collected the keys to my new home.

Tom was unexpectedly single at this time too, so he came with me as a lodger, which helped with the bills.

Fast forward 8 years and I’m happily still here. Tom moved out with his lovely girlfriend, soon to be wife, and I had another friend move in. She moved out and got married, and my older brother moved in. Then I met my husband in 2011.

He was in the Army and based in Catterick in Yorkshire. We fell in love quickly and talked about where we were going to make our future. The biggest part of the decision? My lovely shared ownership flat. I was on the property ladder and had a good job that I loved. Decision made.

He left the Army and moved in with me. And it’s now our home. It’s affordable, its warm, it’s safe, we have great neighbours. Ok, so the boiler has broken down a couple of times, the taps in the bath have needed replacing and these things have cost a few quid to fix. But not that much. And I get a huge sense of pride in knowing that it’s mine, including the responsibility that comes with it.

I also pay a service charge along with my mortgage and rent. But the communal areas are clean and well maintained. I believe that this is down to having a Housing Association as the freeholder. Private freeholders in my experience, do not do as good a job.

We’re now lucky enough to be getting to the point of thinking about moving to somewhere bigger, on the open market. We have some savings, and most of all, we have built up a bit of equity in the flat. This means that we can move on to the next stage of our lives and to give someone else the amazing opportunity for this wonderful, affordable, shared ownership flat to make a difference to them and give them the amazing foundation that it has given me.