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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

International Women's Day - we all need she-roes


Today is International Women's day, and here with her thoughts on the day and her experiences is CIH's head of membership Rebecca Clarke.

"How important it is to recognise our heroes and our she-roes." - Maya Angelou

International Women's Day is that one day a year when many women take time out to properly reflect. They see the tweets of others celebrating the success of women and highlighting the ever-present challenges.

A little trip down memory lane for me now... Not all that long ago, I was being asked whether I could just "stick a pair of heels on for the meeting" and then take them off afterwards. Being pushed to be someone I wasn't in order to look more "professional" and "credible." Would this advice be given to any man? Probably not - te suit would do!

Thanksully my new-found thick skin inspired me to go elsewhere, and eventually I found my home in housing. I've never looked back!

Since arriving in the sector, I've been truly blessed by having some of the best role models possible around me or managing me. The best part of all this was that most of them were women. Most women don't like to blow our own trumpets and celebrate our own successes. OK, this is getting better, but I think from speaking to women across the sector, especially those who are up and coming, this is something that still needs work. How do we inspire this confidence? Where do we get the belief that we too can reach the top? She-roes, that's what.

I still vividely remember sitting at my first Women in Housing awards - and that fact this exists is pretty epic. I was listening to CIH's then president Alison Inman. One of my favourite quotes: "We all remember the person who gave us a hand up. Don't forget to give and hand up to those coming after you." This has echoed in my mind ever since and has left me thinking about my own role models and how I can give that helping hand to oter women in the sector.

Some people may think this is all a bit cheesy - haven't we moved on from the days when women in senior roles were a tiny minotity? But we don't need to look very far to see the problem is still very real. The work on gender pay gaps showed an average gap of 8.1 per cent across the housing sector last year. The good news is that this gap is closing, and we're seeing more women progressing into top jobs. Guess what? More she-roes and role models.

It's true this problem isn't unique to housing, and our sector does outperform many others. But I'm a firm believer that housing has the pwer to lead the way. Some of my she-roes aren't just in the most senior roles; they're women in all roles across the sector who are smashing it every day, doing the best job they possibly can for the people that live in our homes.

So, that hand-up we all need to give; it could be just a high-five or shout-out to a colleague who's been the best version of themselves and done an amazing job. It could be a friendly hug when things haven't gone to plan, when something didn't work or maybe they didn't get that promotion.

This job can't fall to women alone. While the divide remains so prevalent, it's vital we always have our male counterparts supporting women as much as we do. This can happen in so many ways, many of them really simple. Lots of roganisations across the sector are creating more and more opportunities for women to progress by offering things such as flexible working, which is so ideal for women with young families and other committments. We are also seeing increasing numbers of employers looking to grow their own female talent with ambitious internal development programmes, headhunting from within, growing talent through apprenticeship programmes in areas like customer service centres and other frontline roles that are often disproportionately held by female colleagues.

So when Maya Angelou, one of the greatest feminists, said it was important to "recognise our heroes and she-roes," she was spot on. With such a long way still to go to reach true equality, this requires committment from us all - women and men. If we all can offer that helping hand, that bit of confidence to another woman, let's do it - not just on International Women's Day, but every day. Let's make housing the example that paves the way.

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