Jenny Osbourne, CEO of Tpas was a panellist at Women of Influence - WISH Event

Thursday 25th of January 2024

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at a session called “Women of Influence - Enabling Women tenants to shape Boardrooms”. This was a joint event hosted by Women in Social Housing (WISH) London and Women’s Housing Forum, both great membership organisations that Tpas are part of and support.

Alongside me on the panel was the brilliant Victoria Dingle, tenant from Soha. It’s always an honour to be alongside Victoria. Her story is so powerful, and she speaks with such honesty about her experiences that led her to social housing and the confidence that volunteering in engagement has brought her. And the opportunities too. I could listen to her all night, and I think the audience could have done too!

Denise Fowler, CEO of Phoenix Community Housing was chairing the session but also stood in magnificently for Carmen Simpson, Phoenix Chair, who couldn’t attend sadly at the last minute. Denise’s enthusiasm and passion for Phoenix and their community model and governance structure was a joy to hear. There is so much other organisations can learn from Phoenix in terms of training and support given to residents to help them prepare for board positions.

For me, I reflected on the fact that we are hearing from more and more organisations looking to bring tenants back onto their boards alongside the growth in committees of the boards that have delegated power to focus specifically on customer facing services and consumer regulation.

But, if we want to encourage more people to apply, and certainly with more diversity, then we need to work harder and earlier on recruitment. Let’s think about the recruitment timetable – building in enough time between appointment and that first board meeting for support and orientation to the policies and structures of the company. It’s an awful feeling to be thrown into a first meeting, not having met key people first or been taken through the papers etc. Buddies and mentors can play a key role here. Let’s do that more often.

We need to plug into staff networks on who they know. We need to really talk to our community partners and stakeholders. We need to ensure that our organisations actually do what they might say they do in their adverts and publicity – namely treat people with respect, are transparent and inclusive. It’s important to challenge ourselves. Do we say we have due regard for things like mental health, work life balance etc but then schedule meetings through the work day,  expect people to read long board papers at short notice or ask people to join too many other sub committees etc. We have to keep reflecting on what we are asking of people if we want to attract as diverse a board as possible. For me that includes having an honest and regular conversation about remuneration too.

It was a really interesting evening with lots of discussion and questions. Thanks to L&Q and Kinovo for sponsoring the event too.