Alice Gidlow, Communications Officer
We are proud to present to you Elim’s ‘Women in Social Housing’ virtual discussion, a conversation between 11 of Elim’s remarkable women employees and Board Members.
We brought these women together to reflect on their own experiences of working in social housing and the opportunities available in the sector, and the open and frank conversation was a joy to be part of.
Women still have some way to go until they are proportionately represented in leadership roles across all sectors, but we are proud to work with women who continue to ignite change for others in the industry and for our customers who live in Elim homes and receive our services.
We are pleased with the efforts underway at Elim to further develop and promote a diverse and inclusive culture for the benefit of all our staff and customers, but there is plenty of work to be done.
We will continue to encourage and welcome women to take up leadership roles, and to ensure that we are addressing obstacles to ensure female talent is not lost at any level of the organisation. Reflected in our conversation below, this means the continuous identification and removal of barriers at every stage which prevent women from making progress in their careers.
Meet Elim’s women in social housing below.
Sarah, Area Support Manager, “Like many people, I didn’t set out for a career in this sector. I knew I wanted a job that was interesting and challenging, so applied for a job in Supported Housing, not really knowing what it really was or entailed! Thankfully it was a great move and I haven’t looked back since, I have now been working in this sector for 18 years. I love the variety it offers and being able to work with fantastic people.”
Tiffany, Head of HR & OD, “I liked the ethos of Social Housing, so was on the look out for a HR role within Social Housing specifically. I felt that Housing Associations are generally have deep rooted values and ethos’s which align with my own.”
Sonia, Board Member, “When I was 17 I found myself homeless and spent some time living in a Hostel. Later, I was able to secure several work placements within the sector and went on to complete a Housing Degree at Bristol University. This experience influenced me massively and I really felt I could be part of a sector which made a huge difference to people’s lives; my career path then became very clear and I knew what I wanted to achieve.”
Denise, Area Support Manager, “At 17 I joined the Air Force to pursue a military career and all the excitement that went with that. With always having a passion for sport I threw myself into the many sporting opportunities the military gave me. I was part of the British Biathlon Development squad with an opportunity to compete internationally, and at that time I was living what I thought was my best life. A back injury and subsequent surgery put an end to that, and I found myself in dark place physically and mentally, and out of work for a few years, having to re-evaluate what to do next. I joined Community Service Volunteers and undertook some voluntary work in various settings, children’s homes, Youth offending and leaving care teams. The sense of challenge and reward I got from being part of something that was making a positive difference, set me off to where I am now and I have not looked back since.
Rachel, Deputy Chief Executive, “I grew up having with little comprehension of Social Housing, and I think this is often the case for many people who are not personally touched by it. I started working in the sector, by accident rather than design in 2008, and haven’t left since. The opportunities it affords are so broad – it really is a great professional sector as well as a caring one that changes lives”
Juliette, Head of Development, “I studied Surveying, which has always been a very male dominated environment and started to work in a private development background, with hardly any female MD’s or CEO’S around at the time”.
“My son was born 3 months early, changing my outlook completely and I left the private sector during my children’s early years. Later, a female contact suggested work opportunities in the Social Housing, a sector I hadn’t considered previously; I could do the same job but in a more inclusive environment. I love what Housing Associations are about and the voice you are given as a female, Its such a refreshing change.”
Alice, Communications Officer, “I previously worked in a communications role within a private Boarding School. I took some time off to start a family and when I returned, what I was looking for in a role completely changed. I find Housing Associations offer a lot more flexibility in terms of work life balance, and Elim gave me the opportunity to have both.”
Denise, Area Support Manager, “I do think there are a lot of opportunities for women in this sector. But let’s not forget that women are still under represented in the senior roles, and a lot of women who are in the front-line supporting roles are not rewarded enough. We need to continue to drive up the standards for these women in particular.”
Rachel, Deputy Chief Executive, “Seeing successful and strong women at the forefront of platforms at our sector events and watching them grow their organisations in CEO roles is so important – it’s a great example.”
Sonia, Board Member, “It’s also important to remember that success is individual and doesn’t always have to be associated with a managerial job title. Importantly, we cannot be too complacent when the gender pay gap is still an issue across so many sectors, not just Social Housing.”
Sally, Board Member, “With the effects of Covid-19, more women are having to choose between work and childcare, with caring responsibilities falling largely on women.”
Tiff, Head of HR & OD. “We have been clear from the start at Elim that we trust our parents to work flexibly. We understand that caring responsibilities come first, and have worked hard to accommodate this over the last year.”
Alice, Communications Officer, “I would agree with Sally, with the nurseries shutting during the first lockdown, I saw this impacting mothers more than father in most cases. Thankfully this period was made a lot less stressful by the support of my line manager and Elim’s flexible working policy.”
Stacey, Team Leader, “We have definitely seen a positive cultural shift in terms of our approach to parents, even before Covid. I was able to be part of a pilot trial this over the couple of years, but this has been accelerated for a wider number of staff by Covid- 19”
Tiffany, Head of HR & OD, “As an employer we attract a lot of applications for support roles from those who have lived experience. Elim make sure that those valuable employee’s with lived experience are supported alongside their ongoing progression within their roles. Elim initiative ‘Your Best Move’, is as relevant for staff progression as it is for our customers.”
Sally, Board Member, “As a Board we are very conscious of pay levels for our front line staff. Salaries are hugely influenced by commissioners and caps on service funding, but we see a role for boards and housing associations to influence this more effectively. We need to increase the volume of this conversation in the support service environment particularly.”
Denise, Area Support Manager, “We are actively looking at the wider training, awareness and development opportunities for current and prospective staff. Its key for us to skill up our workforce and to also reach out to those who have yet to choose a career, in Schools and Colleges, to tell them about the different roles available within our sector. It might be that in 4 years’ time these people move on and take those learned skills with them, but if they felt valued and motivated whilst with Elim then it would have been worth it.”
Leoda, Team Leader, “Individuals from other ethnicity groups are underrepresented across Social Housing, particularly in leadership roles. It is great that Elim have acknowledged this. We need to keep promoting the opportunities being made available for all staff to feel supported to move up through the organisation into these leadership roles. We have a lot of staff who have worked their way up the ladder within Elim.”
Denise, Area Support Manager, “I would agree with this, it’s about how we as an organisation understand in the first instance, then promote and celebrate diversity within our communities and workforce, and how we get this message out there to potential employee’s, that we are an inclusive employer.”
Sarah, Area Support Manager, “Be open to opportunities and take risks! Challenging structures does pay off, even if you think it won’t. Elim want to be opportunistic as an employer, so we make sure the environment to ask questions is there.”
Stacey, Team Leader, “Completely agree with you Sarah, we tend to go along with the pre-existing norm in our early careers, not wanting to rock the boat. As leaders we need to continue to make sure the environment to ask questions is there. If we encourage, people will flourish.”
Rachel, Deputy Chief Executive, “Challenge yourself regularly. Have the confidence to have network and start conversations… it is awkward but it opens new avenues of opportunity.”
Tiffany, Head of HR & OD, “Do what you enjoy and do what you need to feel valued and rewarded from work. Feeling valued makes you contribute effectively.”
Elim Housing would like to thank Rachel Pinchin, Sara Bennett, Denise Davies-Tombs, Leoda Lewis, Sarah Kidger, Stacey Wilkins, Juliette Saunders, Sonia Furzland, Tiffany Newman, Sally Mason, and Chantel Hatherall for their contributions to this article.