London and Quadrant housing association is currently going through a merger with East Thames. The unification will make it the biggest housing association in London, increasing its stock to more than 100,000 properties and its staff to more than 2,500.
For Chris Gillam, the group’s HR director and chair of its equality and diversity working group, part of the challenge during this process is to ensure that in every one of its 18 offices across the city the firm is representative of that community.
Its entire workforce is made up of 60 per cent women and 40 per cent men, but the figure is getting closer to 50-50 split thanks to its rapidly growing construction business.
However, the technical side of its operations, including construction, engineering and surveying is predominantly male employees.
Hiring the right construction staff is difficult enough when competing against private sector organisations like Barratt and Redrow. Fishing for female talent in a male-dominated pond is a different sport altogether.
London & Quadrant (L&Q), like many companies, faces the pyramid succession structure in leadership, where women become more and more scarce the higher up you go.
Out of six members of the executive team, Diane Hart, who is group director for L&Q housing, is the only woman. Gillam attributes this pyramid profile at L&Q to two factors.
He said: “Firstly, there’s a perception that you have to do more hours. Not having total control over working hours can be a barrier for some of our women because they’re predominantly carers for children and young families.”
To offset this challenge, L&Q offers a range of family-friendly policies that include flexible working and it has granted all requests over the last 12 months, Gillam revealed.
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“The second aspect is a straight fact that there is low turnover at the top,” says Gillam. “We can put the right structures in place, empower women, build their confidence to apply for jobs, but the jobs don’t come up.
“However, the important thing is to have ongoing dialogue with our women so they know that we do support them and they’re part of L&Q’s successions plan for the future.”
The organisation currently runs leadership development schemes for 250 people managers and the process includes psychometric testing, away days, and various events for people to reflect on their career development and gain support.
Another programme, called Aspiring Managers, is aimed at staff members that want to get up the ladder but are not quite ready, or the opportunity has yet to arise.
“We enable them to access management courses that will put them in best position should an opportunity arrive,” Gillam said.
“L&Q has a fantastic track record of internal promotions and they don’t always have to be a move upwards – it can be sideways to a different department.
In February, L&Q signed up the Future of London’s diversity pledge. The group also runs a large number of workshops for female employees through its women’s network, Inspire, established seven years ago, focusing on goals such as self-confidence.
“We want to be an employer of choice and have to offer something unique, especially when you’re competing against the private sector and it’s about salary and bonus.
As part of its commitment to learning and development, L&Q runs Assistance with Studies, where it pays for staff to obtain professional qualifications and between 50 to 70 people gain a new qualification each year.
This year London and Quadrant will launch the Academy to address sections of the business that have been male-dominated.
“We’ll be working with local communities and residents, to develop our own talent for the future, with several programmes targeted at women, including going into schools to talk to young girls about construction careers,” Gillam explained.
Operating in and around central London L&Q’s customer base is extremely diverse. It is important to the business that its workforce reflects this, so people feel they’re understood and given a fair service.
Gillam said: “For me, a mixed workforce also means better emotional intelligence, everybody’s situation is considered and there is a respect for culture, right from our reception to managers.
“The real test of success for me is to hear from women in the business maybe one year after restructuring, and we have improvements in their answers, where they don’t see any more barriers in their way or they feel much more empowered.”