Coastal Housing Group and Sovereign Business Integration Group look at how gender diversity in housing IT is changing in a traditionally male-dominated sector.
Has the role of women in society ever been so hotly debated? From women’s suffrage to the recent gender pay gap headlines, the debate rages on. Recent reports have gone onto reveal that, largely, women’s remuneration still trails men’s by quite a margin.
UK companies’ obligation to report pay has also shone the spotlight on the ratio of men to women in the workforce in senior roles. Not surprisingly, less than a quarter of boards are made up of women. In 2017, 16 per cent of boards had no female members at all, but this is an improvement on the 33 per cent in 2013.
Having said that, we mustn’t lose sight of how in the past decade gender equality has improved significantly, even if men are still more prevalent in science and technology jobs, especially in more senior roles.
Women in social housing
In social housing however, the outlook is healthier than in other sectors.
In a 2017 report from Inside Housing, women made up 39 per cent of executives and 36 per cent of board members. 42 out of the 64 housing providers sampled were led by male chief executives, but 36 per cent had executive teams made up of half or more women. And when you look at the current G15 group of London’s largest housing providers, 33 per cent of the leading CEO members are women.
Rhian Waygood, IT systems support partner, and Amy Kelly, IT support analyst, from Coastal Housing Group said that Coastal took a decision to promote from within to build its IT team. The organisation looked to its customer contact centre and engaged with skilled customer-focused individuals who were interested in building their IT careers. The contact centre is predominantly female, so this recruitment drive naturally increased the number of women in the IT team, which now has a 50:50 split of men and women.
However, Coastal Housing’s IT infrastructure analyst, Kathryn Banfield, believes that the reason it has taken women so long to join IT departments is due to a lack of role models and when talking to the women in the IT team, it is clear that, while we are in changing times, outdated perceptions persist.
Some perceptions that remain include the assumption that a woman won’t know as much as a male colleague and that literature, aimed at attracting women to IT education, usually only includes men. So too, women in these roles are often pioneers, so few have family or friends in similar roles. One maintenance project even saw female IT team members being asked by male colleagues if they needed help when they saw the women using screwdrivers!
Diversity makes good business sense
A recent report from Grant Thornton on ‘The value of diversity’ looked at diverse boards in India, UK and the US and found that diverse boards significantly out-performed male-only boards and found that an organisation’s profitability increased when at least one woman is on the board. Of course, people who are alike think similarly and tend to generate similar ideas. This can lead to a less innovative, questioning environment, as there is no challenge being made among the decision-makers.
Recognising Coastal Housing’s strong position, Banfield concluded that reducing the 50:50 split would be a backward step as this had helped enormously with innovation, perspective, empowerment, diversity, equality and growth.
The importance of encouragement
Joanna Sedley-Burke, managing director, Sovereign Business Integration Group, said, “As a female director working in technology, where only 17 per cent are female, I have always encouraged other women into the sector and to build their careers. I know change takes time but I am keen to see some indication that more women are coming into the IT market and are seeing their careers flourish.”
It isn’t all just down to giving women a helping hand or being open about how companies remunerate staff.
Change needs to happen earlier on. Confirmation bias starts early and is said to play a pivotal role in stalling gender equality. It is a societal tendency to fixate and associate success and innovation with male role models. A perception that hiring processes are still based on historical profiles rather than the actual ability and skills of the applicant remains a problem too.
Business owners and leaders would do well to engage with schools and communities to capture interest when pupils are deciding on their careers and educational direction, work with apprenticeship schemes as well as implement policies to encourage non-discriminatory hiring and ensure that expectations of equality are met in the workplace.
Looking ahead to more women in IT
Sovereign’s Sedley-Burke knows that, as the number of women working in technology increases, these roles will naturally appeal to a wider demographic, helping to encourage more women into the sector.
It’s not just about pay, it’s also about capitalising on the skills and talents that are readily available and exploiting them. Sedley-Burke cites the example of Sonal, recruited to Sovereign’s developer team, which is also 50:50 male to female, and who is proving a great addition on web development projects. Sonal explained, “I enjoy developing code and the work is different every day. I really love the new challenges I’m given to solve. I’m glad I chose web development as a career and hope to see more women joining me!”
Interviewing both genders for roles contributes a lot to our learning and development. This is why reviewing numbers of women applying for IT roles, plus success rates will help us to ask, what more we can do to improve these rates?
Housing Technology would like to thank Kathryn Banfield, Amy Kelly and Rhian Waygood (Coastal Housing Group) and Joanna Sedley-Burke (Sovereign Business Integration Group) for contributing to this article.