21st August 2019
In her last article, Kam Shergill (Social Housing recruitment specialist) explained why she wanted to launch the second Equal Housing event: Females of the Future, focusing on women progressing in Social Housing.
As part of this journey, she’s been speaking to influential women in Housing during the run-up to the event in October.
How can women climb the ladder in Social Housing?
KA said “I have experienced a lot of times in my working life being the only woman in senior management meetings. This has been a challenge at times to ensure that my view carried at least equal weight to any other person in the meeting. At Stafford and Rural Homes 13 years ago almost 90% of the leaders were male, people who had been promoted sometime through long service creating a very masculine culture. The change enshrined in Stafford and Rural Homes company values:
- Communicating with one another in a range of ways that are timely and informative
- Approachable so that people can communicate with one another, share ideas and remain informed
- Respectful of each others differences, values and opinions, treating everybody as they would wish to be treated
- Empowering staff, customers and stakeholders to have real and meaningful input into the business
- Supportive of each other, offering only constructive criticism and being willing to help make the service excellent
This meant that opportunities were created for people to “Be the best you can be”. This culture was not about being the best but doing your very best. People were empowered to make decisions which sometimes came with mistakes and these mistakes were owned and put right empowering women to feel there was equal opportunity to succeed in the organisation. It is the values that have created a first class empowered culture for all.”
KS asked “How did that feel, that they were watching and questioning why you were there? I feel the women in Social Housing of today have the potential but there isn’t enough support or encouragement to uplift them”.
KA said “For me, I personally didn’t feel intimidated and I challenge the fact that there isn’t sufficient support or encouragement for women. The biggest problem today is that young people have high expectations that often are a result of the ‘2 click culture’. This is where everything, information, opportunity, possessions are delivered in 2 clicks on the phone. Sadly this often means when asked why you want a position or what you bring to the position it isn’t well thought through. Having been born without opportunity and leaving school with virtually no qualifications the challenge for me was to go to work. Nobody asked me ‘do you think you have an equal opportunity as a woman’. I had to show every time that I would be skilled enough, knowledgeable enough, determined enough, resilient enough and unique enough to win the opportunity at interview. This requires a great deal of thought, a dash of common sense and a determination second to none. It is this that creates opportunity for women.
As a woman, I’ve made hard and important career decisions and competed in a male world. Every time I was successful, I did think “oh my goodness, one day somebody is going to come along and ask how did you get here?” but I worked and empowered myself. I never expected anyone else to do it for me. However, when I went to work in Warrington the leader was amazing and recognised my determination and courage and encouraged learning through day release. I studied for my degree, worked full time, was married with a mortgage, taught aerobics 5 times a week, stayed up all night writing assignments and achieved a 2:1 Honours degree in Housing. That recognition is what it took to turn determination into success”.
KS asked Did you ever face any barriers in-between promotions? Did you push through any glass ceilings?
KA said “Several times, I faced barriers but was determined to succeed. In one organisation I felt that I was passed over for a job that I had worked extremely hard to achieve. The answer was to move on and I did. The move was successful and self determined, I think encouragement, mentoring and coaching all has its place. We need to help future leaders recognise their potential but we also need to make them stand on their own two feet. One of the best pieces of advice I give to those I coach or mentor is “nothing is for nothing”. People need to work hard, be driven and throw their hat in the ring in order to succeed. It should never be a given. I have made my own decisions and competed in a male dominated world because I empowered myself”.
KS asked “What do you do for future rising stars?
KA said “At Stafford and Rural Homes we create an environment that people can succeed in, everybody has something to offer. When coaching or mentoring, the first question I ask is what is your unique selling point? What do you have that if everybody at the table has the same qualifications, experience and determination that you have makes you different? I often help people to determine what this is and have the confidence to say it. There is nothing at all wrong with knowing what is unique about you and what it takes to win. When preparing for interviews I encourage people to think how do I answer the question with a ‘money note’. The ‘money note’ is a thing that makes the interviewer sit up and listen. Then comes experience, examples, outcomes and wrap up with another ‘money note’. This shows your winning potential”.
KS asked “What about Breaking gender stereotypes, do you think this is happening across the UK in Housing Associations?
KA said “I think there are examples of great practice, there are those who can see there are spaces for more women leaders in Social Housing. Here at Stafford and Rural Homes, recruiting people is a pleasure and we encourage them to grow. Investing in people, encouraging the breaking of barriers, acting a bit differently and finding creative new ways of doing things keeps us moving forward and never being stale. I am often asked if performance indicators would make Housing Associations more accountable for equality. I don’t agree. Culture creates equality and opportunity and individuals with encouragement determine their own future. So “be the best you can be” is the best message I can give anybody. We don’t use the language of failure, you can be great at it, good at it, or know enough to do it. We promote the language of encouragement and the focus is on outcomes. People are encouraged to make their own mark, develop their own skills, seek advice, encouragement and support but to stand on their own two feet, be unique and focus on their own future. The secret to success for me is to have knowledge, empathy, determination, resilience and to be caring”.