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International Women’s Day – what is it like for women working in housing?

To mark International Women’s Day, Karen Scott and Lesley Davids share their reflections with Northern Housing on what it’s like for women in the housing sector.

Published by Northern Housing Magazine 8th March 2020

To mark International Women’s Day, Karen Scott and Lesley Davids share their reflections with Northern Housing on what it’s like for women working in the housing sector.

EVERY year for well over a century, International Women’s Day has celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s not just a celebration, though; it remains very much a call to action for the acceleration of women’s equality.

This year’s International Women’s Day slogan is #EachforEqual, designed as a reminder of the role we all must play in helping to create a gender equal world. What does the slogan mean for you in your workplace?

Lesley Davids: For me it comes down to who is the best person for the job, regardless of gender. It’s about the skills and experience they can bring to the table. In the last year I’ve hired seven project managers, five are women.

It’s taken a while, but you are likely to see far more women now working in a variety of roles, particularly on the business side. I started off as a programmer in the 80s and worked my way up the ladder, via the IT route, which was very much a male dominated environment.

I think there has been some progress made in encouraging women to pursue a career in technology, but more can still be done.

Karen Scott: Yes, I agree, the technology side still tends to be male dominated, but I am seeing more job applications from women coming through. Flexible working, part-time and working remotely have all been game changers. Two of my female developers are working flexibly and it’s meant I can retain their skills and experience and they can continue doing jobs they are good at and enjoy.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, girls are called bossy, whist boys are called leaders. What do you think are the essential qualities of good leadership?

LD: I think being a good listener lies at the heart of being a good leader. You have to be able to really listen to your team, it means you are better informed to make the right decisions for them and for your organisation. It helps if you have ‘been there and done it’ as well. I don’t necessarily mean that exact project or even that exact area of business, but people respect you as a leader if you know the complexities they are up against.

KS: For me too, it’s all about being a good communicator and to lead by example. It’s how I have been led and how I now like to lead my team.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights, what barriers or specific challenges have you had to overcome in your career?

LD: I took a six-month career break when I had my daughter, who is just shy of 30 and it wasn’t as common to go back to work in those days as it is now. Plus, I spent five years living abroad and wasn’t able to work.

It’s fair to say my career and salary did take a bit of a hit for a while. I was able to work my way up, but I had to start at a lower level than before.

Nowadays, there is much more acknowledgement that both parents might want to take time off after their children are born, as well as being offered the opportunity to work flexibly and still maintain steady career progress.

KS: I’ve always had “I believe I can do it” attitude, which I think I can attribute in part to the fact I have always been surrounded by strong female managers and directors. Seeing women occupying key positions is very empowering, as it has helped me see it’s also possible for me to move up the ladder.

Do you think women struggle to have their voices heard in the housing industry?

LD: I think the housing sector is a bit of an anomaly, as there are more women working in this area than most. Take the other day when I attended a board meeting of a social housing provider, it struck me how 75% of the board were women. So, I think women do have a voice.

KS: I also would have to say, honestly no. We have a strong female director with two strong product leaders who are well respected within the housing industry, and they help drive different products forward.

How do you see the housing sector changing in the next five years and will the changes bring more opportunities for women?

LD: I think the generation of women coming through really have got to grips with all elements of the housing sector. They understand the pivotal role it plays in our society and they also understand how technology can help them achieve their goals as they are taught it more on schools and there is also more emphasis on STEM subjects these days.

KS: I’m also seeing a shift as we see more and more women graduating with the skills we want. During our last round of recruitment for developer positions we had an equal number of applications from men and women.

In our Mumbai team as well, there are many female team leaders.

Karen Scott is housing software development manager, and Lesley Davids is head of project management, government and housing.