Housing associations have made considerable progress in terms of gender parity and equality in recent years, but there’s still a hefty mountain to climb.

Here we explore the ways we can encourage more women into the male-dominated areas of housing.

While women make up 46% of the UK workforce, they are still underrepresented within the housing sector; especially in leadership positions. This is doubly true when it comes to Black, Asian and ethnic minority women in housing.

Yes progress has been made and yes the numbers are rising - but it still isn’t enough.

How can we encourage more women into the male-dominated areas of housing?

This is a journey that needs to start with school children and work right up towards the leadership positions in housing associations. It requires a fully joined up, integrated approach. If we want to be a part of a fully inclusive workforce, then we need to acknowledge that "not bad" isn’t good enough.

Read on to find out more about the current environment for women in housing and how we can approach the challenges that they face.

woman construction worker in housing wearing a helmet

What is the current landscape for women in housing roles?

Women are underrepresented in the most well-paid, senior housing jobs. Women make up 36% of housing association boards, 39% of executive teams and 34% of chief executives. However, the real figures could be less - the research (taken by Inside Housing) was carried out on a self-selecting group. There’s a high probability that those with particularly poor representation wouldn’t take part.

Saying that, the women who are in leadership roles are making waves within the industry. Just take a look at this article on the top 20 social housing leaders for an insight into the incredible movements they have made for the sector.

If we step away from leadership and into the on the ground, predominantly male-dominated positions, the figures drop further still. Reports suggest that in the UK only 12.5% of those employed in the construction sector are female.

But - and there is a but - we find better representation in roles such as maintenance and surveying. The numbers are growing, and recent reports suggest that 31% of those qualifying into the surveying profession are women. In fact, there’s been a 93% increase in the number of women enrolling across APC, AssocRICS and Senior Professional routes since 2014. These are really promising numbers, strengthened by projects such as the Tradeswomen into Maintenance project (steered by Mears Group) which aims to increase the inclusion of targeted recruitment and selection in the procurement of social housing to boost the number of females working in trades.

Overall it’s clear that while steps have been made, there are still barriers blocking women from approaching and entering these roles.

How can we encourage more women into the sector?

It isn’t a case of women just ‘not going for the jobs’ - more work needs to be done to create inclusive workspaces that they want to be a part of, and in which they will be treated in an equal way to their male colleagues.

  • A more inclusive atmosphere.

Be honest and ask yourself what kind of culture would a female colleague be stepping into if they joined your workforce. If the answer is anything but 'welcoming and supportive", then this is the first place to start.

‘Lad culture’ can be rife in the housing industry, as can gender stereotypes. Across the board, this must be addressed if we want any hope of building a more equal society. Consider how you can not only make this a reality but also show prospective employees that yours would be a positive environment for them to be a part of.

  • Address the pay gap.

Fundamentally, the gender pay gap needs to be broken down if we want more women to step into the sector. A report discovered that over half of the UK’s largest housing associations have seen the gender pay gap grow in recent years. We cannot expect women to enter an industry where the pay gap is only growing: it’s as simple as that.

  • Improve higher-level representation.

We need to get the figures around high-level positions to an equal standing when it comes to male and female representation.

This is something the industry can - and should - be at the forefront of. With the majority of industries lacking when it comes to senior female representation, to be one of the sectors driving the change and taking the steps to equal out the footing, you can expect more and more women to want to be associated with and represented by the industry.

  • Teach school children about the opportunities within the industry for all genders.

While you cannot impact the curriculum, there are workshops, presentations and assemblies that housing associations could create aimed at girls and how they could find a home in the industry. Gender stereotypes - and what is deemed a job for women and a job for men - have moved a good deal, but they still remain in many communities, families and settings. However, if we are able to connect with girls during their formative years and show them that there is another option when it comes to their career, we could find ourselves in a far more inclusive future. This should include greater awareness of “non-traditional” professions such as building surveying, the opportunity to speak to those in the industry, more work experience placements and better promotion and marketing.

  • Integrate gender inclusivity into your recruitment strategy and targets.

The simplest answer is to make sure you have integrated gender equality within your recruitment goals and strategy. Do you have a 50/50 quota for female and male representation? Do you use females in your marketing collateral? Do you have women on the recruitment panel? Are you writing your advertisements in a way that speaks to both genders?

These - and many other - questions will help you craft an approach that reaches out to women just as much (if not, more) than men.

What are the challenges and benefits for women working in the housing sector?

We spoke to Katie Double, Service Delivery Manager at Capsel Homes, about the benefits that she has found within her role and the barriers that young females may face breaking into a male-dominated industry.

“I was one of those people that just fell into the trades industry. Having spent over 10 years in management in the third sector and leisure industry, an operations manager's position became available with Capsel and I decided to apply. I never had a planned career path to enter the repairs and maintenance world but it has turned out to be one that I thoroughly enjoy, and is very rewarding.

“Every day is different; one minute I am wearing a hard hat on a building site and the next developing new partnerships with local organisations, which I love. The other most exciting part is being involved in all of our new open market developments. From when the first spade goes in the ground, to house type design and decorating the show home to handing over the keys to our first buyers on site. It’s so great to be part of the whole process.

“Luckily, I didn’t face any barriers or issues when entering my role... I had support from both my directors and peers and feel really privileged to have such an amazing group of operatives in my trades teams. I am particularly passionate about increasing the number of females in Capsel’s property maintenance team and enhancing the already positive and equal playing field that we have here at Capsel.

“However, I know that this isn’t the case for all women working in the housing sector. Education has a significant role to play in creating sustainable change and where possible, instilling the belief in children that their career path is not predetermined just because of their gender. All roles, where practical, should be gender-neutral however I still believe we have a long way to go until Bob the builder becomes Barbie the builder.

“Organisations such as Pinkspiration are particularly inspirational in tackling the young employed, with a focus on addressing the massive gender split in construction roles which currently sees only 3% of women in manual trades, 5% in engineering and only 2% of female-owned businesses in Wales.

“Thank goodness the tide is definitely turning, although statistics like these show we still have a long way to go!”

Looking to take a more inclusive, focused approach to your recruitment?

Why not get in touch with one of our Moxie People? Our ethos is ‘recruitment for good’, and we understand the importance of inclusivity and representation within a business.