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Closing the gender pay gap

Sinéad Butters asks what the sector can do to redress the gender pay gap



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Closing the gender pay gap, by Sinead Butters

There has been a great deal of discussion in our business since the most recent gender pay gap reporting hit the headlines. The BBC’s female presenters publicly challenging their bosses on the issue has shone a spotlight on what will be an uncomfortable subject for many employers.

Voices from campaigning and lobbying camps are calling for sweeping changes to employment law and practice to bring about more flexible work opportunities, additional paternity leave and increased transparency, to redress the balance.

Originally enshrined in the Equal Pay Act 1970, equal pay rights now come under the Equality Act 2010. This legislation’s ‘sex equality clause’ essentially means men and women should receive equal pay when doing equal work for the same employer. But it’s alarming to me that, more than 45 years later, we are facing a gulf of such proportions. And for the first time in history, employers are going to have to ‘fess up’ to their gap in the glare of full publicity.


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Under the new gender pay gap reporting requirements, which came into effect in April this year, large employers must publish their figures on a Government Equalities Office web page by April 2018. More than 8,000 UK businesses with 250-plus employees will be held to account, even though many are unprepared or unaware of this legal duty.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, we’ve already published the gender pay gap for Aspire Housing. At the time of writing, we’re one of only 48 organisations to publish our report and while our pay gap is not embarrassing in its size, it is still unacceptable.

The data shows our mean gender pay gap is 8.2%. We acknowledge that there is work to do to eliminate this, as it is crucial our people are rewarded fairly for their contributions.

“Why is it that sometimes women can listen too carefully to that negative voice saying they can’t do it or they are not good enough?”

I’ve always acknowledged that everyone is valuable in their own right and should be treated equally, regardless of their gender, creed, colour or religion, and therefore I haven’t pushed the gender topic too hard.

However, I am now considering whether we are doing enough to grapple with the issue of supporting women at all levels of our business. I know we have more male than female middle managers and senior staff – despite having a female chief executive and a female chair – but what are we going to do about it?

I meet annually with every Aspire employee who manages someone, and what is striking about these conversations is that many of the young women in management, who are great at what they do and have the potential to do even more, think they’re not good enough.

Why is it that sometimes women can listen too carefully to that negative voice saying they can’t do it or they are not good enough?

I know what it feels like and I’m sure we all must have felt like that at some point in our lives. I try not to listen to my negative voice too much; sometimes it gets the better of me, but most of the time I move forward fast enough so it can’t keep up.

But while I am ploughing on, thinking the best women will rise to the top, maybe it’s time I realised it’s up to me and others in similar positions to take more action. This may involve spending some time helping those who lack confidence and supporting them to believe in themselves so we see more women pushing for the top jobs at Aspire and other housing associations. And it may involve having some frank conversations about what holds some women back, at all levels of the organisation.

“We need more positive action from women in top roles so we can ensure everybody gets a fair chance at getting their dream job.”

Now we have the opportunity to address these issues and break down those barriers, whether they are perceived or real, and end the injustice of the gender pay gap.

As a woman in a position of influence, I believe this is a start which may help to change things for those who will follow in my footsteps, and I imagine all women and men in similar positions are thinking the same.

I don’t feel unfair supporting women in this way to help them achieve their potential. It is time to realise there may be a hidden, unintended subconscious bias, even here at Aspire and in the social housing sector.

We don’t have this cracked just because we have a female chief executive and chair at Aspire Housing, so we need to do more. We need more positive action from women in top roles so we can ensure everybody gets a fair chance at getting their dream job. I got mine.

Sinéad Butters, chief executive, Aspire Housing

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