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Blog: What International Women's Day means to L&Q

Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Group Chief Executive
Published on 08/03/2021

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s important we look at the amazing work women are doing in the housing sector to challenge gender bias on a daily basis.

This year’s theme is ‘choose to challenge.’ The description says a challenged world is an alert world, and I couldn’t agree more.

At L&Q, we have so many phenomenal women working across construction, development, maintenance and a number of other traditionally male departments. That’s not to mention their colleagues of all genders, acting as allies to work together towards gender equality.

It’s been six weeks since I took over as the first female CEO of L&Q, and I am so proud to lead a housing association so passionately committed to diversity and inclusion, and to improving our offering. Inclusion is one of our core values and we draw strength from our differences and work collaboratively. It’s an important part of our social contract with residents and stakeholders that the people in our organisation reflect the wider community.

Bringing together a diverse range of people also helps us perform to our best, whether delivering great services, investing in the quality of our homes, or realising our ambitions to build more to help solve the housing crisis.

Our gender equality network, Inspire, has done some fantastic work already and I know they have big plans for the year ahead – including the virtual event they are holding this evening to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Our board is a 50/50 split of men and women. This is so important, because it means that our highest level of governance, which sets the strategy and holds L&Q to account on its delivery, has a strong voice from women.

As well as that, 40 per cent of our senior leadership group, which includes executive group and their direct reports, are women and 60 per cent of our internal promotions went to women last year and the year before.

However, it isn’t just about senior positions. True access to opportunity means erasing any barriers women face at work.

We’re using our apprenticeship schemes to get more women into those careers that are traditionally male dominated, and we’re involved in mentoring schemes. I’ve seen first-hand just how valuable this sort of thing can be, as I mentor two women, one from inside L&Q and another from one of our Joint Venture partners.

While it’s fantastic to celebrate our incredible female colleagues and the work we do to support them, International Women’s Day is also an opportunity to look at what still needs to be done.

And our work doesn’t stop here. We need to push on and make changes.

Only seven per cent of FTSE 100 companies are headed by a woman – we would have some impact on this if we weren’t a charitable organisation.

We have a huge voice in our sector. People listen to us. We need to use our voice with ministers, GLA, and elsewhere to talk about the issues facing women – this goes for our colleagues and for women who live in our homes.

63 per cent of housing claimants are women, reflecting their lower salaries – in the UK the gender pay gap is 15.5 per cent. I’m delighted to say, ours is much lower, at 5.8 per cent.

Women are the ‘household reference person’ in 56.6 per cent of social tenancies but only 39 per cent of private tenancies, so getting it right for women isn’t just about our staff. Our residents are more likely to be women.

And as many prepare for the roadmap to lead us out of a third lockdown, many have been feeling the effect of staying at home.

For some of our residents, this has meant being literally locked down with their abusers.

Between March and June 2020, police recorded a seven per cent rise in incidents of domestic abuse, on the same period in 2019.

I’m so pleased to say that since the first lockdown in March 2020, L&Q has offered new homes to 16 victims of domestic violence and a place in our refuge for women with learning disabilities to two.

This work is so important, and we will continue to support victims of domestic abuse living in our homes in any way we can. We work with several specially trained agencies who have helped other residents to feel safe again. 

As we enter the new financial year, we are more committed than ever to keep pushing on for gender equality both at work and in our homes.