09 November, 2015
This years' inaugural Women in Housing Conference was held at the Hilton, Deansgate on 22 October 2015. It saw a whole host of women from the housing sector discussing the impact of the recent cuts on the sector and what it is like now to be a woman in business. Forbes was delighted to be a sponsor and attend the conference itself.
Colette McKune, Deputy Chief Executive, ForViva got the conference underway with a strong statement 'it is a difficult time for the housing sector but we will come out stronger.' Colette spoke about the recent rent cuts and how housing associations are now require to look at ways of getting through this time through more innovative thinking. The composition of boards was also considered and Colette spoke about how there is now 84% female representation on the board. This is great news and paves the way for better opportunities for women in the sector going forward.
Next up to speak was Carol Matthews, Chief Executive at Riverside. Carol told us her story and how she made it to where she is today. Carol also spoke of her approach to working and told us in her opinion 'the only way is ethics' and standing up for what you believe in. The country changed on 8th July 2015 where the new conservative government considered the housing sector was 'part of the problem' and the approach would be to tackle housing associations and that rents should come down. Since then not only have we had the rent cuts but also the extension of the right to buy was looked at. Carol considered that if the government were to legislate for right to buy, housing associations would effectively be a public sector dog, she said 'we would wag like it and bark like it.' One relief for many housing associations was when the government accepted the statement of intent from the sector regarding the right to buy. Carol also went on to explain what the recent changes have meant for Riverside. She explained that four years of real rent cuts would result in a loss of significant projected income. She explained how there now has been a shift in focus in the sector and to overcome this loss of income would mean reductions in spend in key areas elsewhere such as training. Carol concluded that the sector is much more outcomes focussed now and the regulator expects the sector to self-regulate but the housing sector will remain 'a safety net and springboard.'
Baroness Warsi spoke about her way to the top and advising everyone at the conference to 'stay true' to themselves. Baroness Warsi faced difficulty throughout her career both due to her background and her gender. Her story was inspiring in that you should stand up for what you believe and concluded that 'nothing is worth selling out your values and principles;' applying that to both personal beliefs and also the approach housing associations are taking in tackling the rent cuts.
To round up the day there was a panel Q&A with Colette McKune; Deputy Chief Executive at ForViva, Geraldine Howley; Chief Executive at Incommunities, Kathy Cowell; Your Housing Group Chair, Cathy Osbourn; Savills, Isabella Slattery; CBRE, Director of Affordable Housing and Jane Nelson; Mears Group. Colette started the debate by asking all members of the panel to tell us about the most inspirational women in their lives and why. They then moved on to discussing issues that the sector faces and all concluded that whilst it is a very difficult time for the sector at the moment with great challenges ahead, we must all work together towards building for a brighter future.
Partner and Head of Housing & regeneration (property) at Forbes Lucy Worrall comments "We were delighted to be a sponsor and part of this year's first Women in Housing conference. The day saw some inspirational speakers and stories. To quote a Women in Property colleague, never underestimate the woman stood next to you. How true."