Social housing’s efforts on equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) have so far been ‘piecemeal or time-limited’, with the sector’s workforce not representative of the communities it serves, the National Housing Federation has warned.
In a new report published today, the NHF found that women, BME people, LGBTQ+ people and disabled people are all sorely under-represented in housing leadership roles with women representing 41.1% of housing association board members despite heading up 59.3% of housing association homes.
Only 4.8% of board members identified as disabled, while only 4% of executives in the top 50 housing associations were BAME compared to 9% of housing association household reference persons.
The NHF, which lists around 800 housing associations as its members, said that the report showed that the sector must still put considerable work into addressing EDI issues.
“For too long, however, the sector has reviewed and discussed diversity, equality and inclusion without driving clear change. The insights gathered here show initiatives and actions have been piecemeal or time-limited, with little understanding of impacts,” the report concluded.
“We have seen diversity, equality and inclusion as a project rather than an organisational value that should be embedded into company culture and policies. If we are to address the great challenges around inequality and discrimination, then greater sector leadership is required.”
The report, Equality, diversity, and inclusion: an insight review of housing association staff in England, produced in partnership with Housing Diversity Network (HDN), sought to offer insight into EDI in the housing association workforce, based on analysis from the English Housing Survey.
The insight review found that housing associations hold very limited data for protected characteristics such as age, marriage/civil partnership, maternity/pregnancy, and religion, while there is almost no sector data showing staff diversity at more junior levels.
While the median average pay difference between men and women for housing associations in 2018/19 was 8.1% – substantially lower than the national average of 17.3% – one housing association was found to have a median pay difference of almost 30% in favour of men.
Alongside a lack of data about diversity below board or executive level, the report also found a lack of information in the sector about EDI programmes.
The EDI schemes that are run by housing associations – usually by individual or small groups of providers – tend to be small-scale and time-limited, with measures of their success rarely published or analysed afterwards, it found.
“The insights give the impression that the approach to equality, diversity and inclusion within the sector is piecemeal and uncoordinated,” the report read. “This lack of a single voice or statement of action is potentially limiting for the sector’s ability to make real progress.”
In response to the report, the NHF said it will work to provide a sector-wide picture of diversity in housing association workforces and how this compares to the demographics of the areas in which its members operate. The NHF has urged its members to be open in sharing their data.
“We’re calling for the sector to show leadership around ensuring a diverse, inclusive and equal workforce,” the NHF said.
“This must start with open, honest conversations within housing associations about the apparent lack of equality, diversity and inclusion throughout much of our sector.”
Update: This article was updated on 4 February 2021 to remove an typo which stated that in 2019 just 7% of housing association chief executives were women. This was meant to be 39.7%.