SHIFT Awards 2017
This article was originally published in 24 Housing.
It’s been nearly a year since the Northern Powerhouse Conference, an event aimed at celebrating the brightest business-people and executives in the north of England, came under fire for the lack of women representation in its conference programme and communications campaign. From high profile boycotts, resignations and formal apologies it culminated in this year’s event being “indefinitely postponed”. The implications were severe and highlighted the lack of progress regarding diversity across sectors.
The housing sector has long lacked diversity, particularly at senior levels and it is certainly not uncommon to see similar scenarios at housing, built environment, energy and sustainability events.
Sustainable Homes is delighted to support the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and we are proud to be working with UKSSD to implement these in our organisation and throughout our work in the sector. It’s particularly through our events we aim to support, encourage and demonstrate the rich contribution diversity brings to the sector.
Over the past years we have moved away from the “at least one woman” in the speakers list as we realised that this is a far more important issue than a box ticking exercise and we now aim to reach a 50% gender balance in our speakers. It’s not a promise, it’s certainly not guaranteed but we work hard to ensure that happens. It’s important to note, that it’s not unusual for companies to choose for themselves which speakers to nominate, which is a major challenge for us. Our aim is of course to deliver the highest quality content and learn from experts, however we must encourage contribution from different backgrounds, roles and genders and harness challenging ideas, perspectives and insights. It’s also vital that young women are encouraged to strive in a particularly male dominated sector. Only this approach delivers what we consider high quality content.
However, is addressing diversity at a speaker level enough and how is the sector addressing attendance at conferences, workshops, roundtables and training? Whilst managing an event where there were 5 women registered to attend and 30 male attendees, and aiming at a more diverse audience, we were inevitably faced with the comment “women are more reluctant to cut into family time” in addition to “if they are not senior enough they shouldn’t attend” statements.
Are we really still under the misconceptions about women and work-life balance? Are we also under the assumption that there are no women in the relevant roles? And how about the next generation of leaders?
What is then required to make a step-change in the diversity of our sector and how can different organisations choose to represent themselves?
We take the responsibility of delivering the best of both worlds. We pride ourselves on delivering impactful events on relevant issues that also represent the diversity in the sector, and we work closely with our partners, clients and other stakeholders to deliver this. At the SHIFT Awards for example, table hosts and sponsors are actively encouraged to address diversity within their guests and the table plan is carefully designed not to have all male tables. The challenge is that we still have to actively address this issue in 2018.
The approach to diversity in housing is changing and it’s fantastic to see the increasing awareness concerning the representation of women, minorities, LGBT and people with disabilities at senior levels is at top of the agenda for 2018. But we need to see action, and this is everyone’s business.