Embracing equity for International Women’s Day 2023

Ijay Onyechi, 08 March 2023

This year International Women’s Day (IWD) is all about embracing equity but what does it mean and why is it important?

Gender equity means respecting all people without discrimination, regardless of their gender. It aims to address gender inequalities that limit a person’s ability to access opportunities to achieve better health, education and economic opportunity based on their gender.

Today as women working in the housing sector, we all have the opportunity to reflect and drive further conversations on gender inequality. We must keep pushing to find practical ways to dismantle all barriers faced by women in the workplace.

On a personal level, I joined the sector many moons ago and it’s heart-warming to see so many women in positions of leadership and influence across the sector. I also wince at the days when it was common to hear phrases such as “that’s a woman’s job” or “women are not built for roles like this.”

As a Black woman in the sector, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Lucky in the sense that I have had the support of some inspirational women to learn from and the true allyship of men committed to gender equality. But as I sit in rooms, I recognise that there are still not enough women in spaces of influence.

Housing associations have long shown a commitment to gender equality by reviewing and putting in place policies and procedures to support women to climb the proverbial career ladder. We look around and see a lot more women present and thriving in male dominated industries. The sad story however is that despite these policies, some women still suffer from gender bias stemming from outdated values and culture. This is often reflected in the difference in pay for men and women.

Gender pay gap

When you look at the data published by several housing associations the gender pay gap still persists with no real long-term solution to achieve parity across our sector.

When it comes to the gender pay gap in the UK, ONS data shows in 2022 the gap among full-time employees increased to 8.3%, up from 7.7% in 2021. This is still below the gap of 9.0% before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019. Estimates for 2020 and 2021 are subject to more uncertainty than usual so it’s recommended to look at the longer-term trend.

If we are to truly achieve gender equality in our organisations, we need gender equity. For me, this means clear targeted initiatives to ensure equal treatment so less of a focus on “fixing” women and our perceived weaknesses and more of a focus on fixing the system. This is a system that sometimes inadvertently promotes needless gender roles

To support positive action around gender equity, it’s important as a sector we continue to review our current position, review the communities we serve and review the services we provide for residents. For this to be completed effectively we need good quality data.

In April, the NHF will be launching a new version of its EDI data tool helping housing associations to better understand their workforce diversity, and how representative they are of their local communities.

By supporting the sector to better understand the diverse characteristics of their residents, and comparison with workforces we are ensuring housing associations build solid foundations to implement diverse leadership and embrace equality in the workplace.

Allyship from men

As we celebrate IWD this year, my message to men in positions of influence is to use this initiative as an opportunity to be an ally or advocate for gender equity. Being curious, having some self-awareness about how your actions can include or exclude and building your knowledge is a key process to help you understand the challenges facing women in the workplace. Remember you have the chance to make a difference, not only to women but to all marginalised groups within your organisation.

There will no doubt be lots of conversations this month around what can be done to embrace equity and drive women’s equality. We all have an important role to play by supporting these conversations and questioning societal stigmas. When you understand you must also take action. Speak up in your organisations and raise awareness of any initiatives supporting work around advancing gender equity.