Elim has elected its first female chair of the board since it was established in 1963. Sally Mason joined in 2020 and has taken over from Andy Lunt, who spent 5 years on the board.
Sally brings over 25 years' experience in HR and Organisational Development in both private and not-for-profit sectors, ranging from hospitality to social housing.
To celebrate her new role, we spoke to Sally about her ambitions, Elim’s strengths and the importance of having women represented on the board.
Why did you decide to join the Elim board?
I have been working in the housing sector since 2015, in an executive role, and prior to that I was working in the private and public sector. What I really like about the housing sector is you can see the value and impact that you can make for people. I felt aligned to the values of the housing industry, and Elim’s CARES values.
So, when there came an opportunity to use my HR skills, knowledge and expertise across those sectors in Elim, it seemed like an ideal opportunity. I knew Elim a little bit because I worked alongside members of the team in various groups across Bristol, and always had a very positive impression of how committed the organisation is. It felt like a match made in heaven!
What do you hope to achieve as Chair of the board?
I think one of the primary roles as the Chair is ensuring that the organisation achieves its vision in meeting housing need and delivering homes that change people’s lives, alongside the strategic priorities that deliver that vision. It’s a collaboration with the Chief Executive, the board members, the senior leadership team and all the colleagues across the organisation. I think the Chair’s role is ensuring the board operates as effectively as it can and making sure we have the right set of skills, knowledge and experience across the board to help us. A board is there to provide strategic perspective, oversight, governance and challenging decisions to make sure there is independent thought.
If you ask me personally what I would like to achieve, it’s customer involvement. Whether that’s having a customer as a board member, or there are several other ways we could achieve that. But it’s about making sure that we’re listening to our customers and considering what they say and what they want. It’s also important to ensure we have diversity of thought coming into the board, so we have real lived experience as well as technical or professional skills.
How do you feel about being the first female Chair for Elim?
I’m not surprised, sadly, that I’m the first! I certainly hope I’m not going to be the last. I feel really proud and I’m hoping to inspire other people to step out of their comfort zone. I’ve been inspired by lots of different role models – male and female – but it’s certainly been helpful for me to see women in positions of responsibility. I think it’s a really positive move for Elim.
Why is it important to have women in the boardroom at an organisation?
There is a lot of research that shows boards perform better when they have diverse membership. It’s not just about gender, but specific research into boards with female members shows that they are more successful by any business metric – whether it’s delivering more sales, growth, or challenging decision-making and looking at aspects like risk in different ways. It’s also about widening the talent pool – if you’re not looking at women candidates, you’re cutting out half the population! It gives you that new perspective and new ideas, and helps to avoid ‘groupthink’ which I think is a danger that many boards will face.
I think it’s important not just to have women on the board, but to listen to and include them. The worst thing you could have is token people on a board. It’s important to have diverse role models across the organisation, not just in terms of gender.
What are Elim’s strengths and what are some of the challenges?
The strength of Elim is the range of services that we can provide. We have experience developing niche opportunities, so people view us as an organisation which is willing to take on areas which others wouldn’t. If you listen to what our stakeholders said in a recent survey, they are very positive about the contribution that we make and our collaborative working. They see us as quite nimble – we can respond quickly to issues as a small organisation. Another strength is the team as a whole. If you look at how everyone pulled together over the last 18 months, it’s clear Elim is very resilient organisation. Another strength is Lime Property Ventures, which is an example of our diverse services.
Yet some of our strengths are also our weaknesses. As a small organisation, we don’t have a lot of resources, whether that’s people or cash flow. So, we need to be particularly aware of maintaining a strong and sustainable organisation. We face the same challenges as many other housing associations: meeting net carbon zero targets, an uncertain economic climate, and balancing keeping existing homes safe with developing new homes to extend our reach. But I think we’re in a very good place to face those challenges, with a strong board and a strong team.
Outside of work, what hobbies do you enjoy?
I’m a bit of a film buff! We have a community cinema where I live which I help to run. I also enjoy the theatre and volunteer as a steward at St George’s in Bristol, which is a great music venue. Alongside that we have a smallholding with hens and pigs…I don’t have many spare hours in the day!
Find out more about the Elim board members here.