Kickstarting a chain reaction for women leaders

L&Q speaks to about how it has boosted the percentage of women in leadership roles from 27% to 44% in just over three years.

woman presenting at board meeting


L&Q has been taking significant steps forward when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the last years, with the number of women in leadership roles rising from 27% in 2018 to 44% today while their group board of directors is evenly balanced when it comes to gender. So what has it done and what has made the most difference?

In January 2018 L&Q adopted the Disability Confident scheme’s positive action framework to boost the number of women in senior roles. As such, they set a commitment to interview at least one woman and one ethnic minority candidate who met the minimum requirements for the role for every senior management position.  Jan Gale, Assistant Director, Diversity and Inclusion, at L&Q, says that that relatively small move “really made waves in the housing sector”. “Getting in the room was a barrier with senior appointments,” she says, adding that the policy “kickstarted a chain reaction”.

The organisation often uses recruitment agencies for senior roles and they asked that they come up with a more diverse range of candidates with the potential for repeat business being dependent on it. “That sharpens the mind,” says Jan. 

Internally, they looked at how they could change the fundamental structure of the organisation to grow their own talent rather than parachuting in diversity. They have two programmes – an emerging leaders programme aimed at senior middle managers and an aspiring managers programme for those taking their first step on the leadership ladder, particularly people from ethnic minorities, in recognition that the barriers start at an early stage. L&Q also set aspirational targets for equal representation for women at senior management level and 30% for ethnic minorities. Jan says intersectionality is vital.

Flexible working

All of these are tactical ways to improve the gender pay gap. But culture also plays a vital role, with openness and flexibility vital, says Jan. All senior roles are offered as open to flexibility. Jan herself works compressed hours, for instance. Indeed flexibility is embedded in the organisation. Jan says it is about helping people do a better job. She thinks the pandemic will only serve to normalise flexible working further.

Allied to that is challenging the way things have always been done.  L&Q’s CEO Fiona Fletcher-Smith [pictured right] started at the organisation in 2018 as group director of development and sales. Traditionally that role is very male-dominated and attracts people from a commercial sales background. L&Q looked at the role and decided to go for someone different, from a political background, given the role is increasingly about political savvy.

“Diversity is not just about protected characteristics, but being open to who might be able to do the job,” says Jan. Just two years later Fletcher-Smith was appointed CEO.

L&Q also anonymises all cvs and has doubled its parental leave for second parents. “We are making a statement that we want to support gender balance in childcare,” says Jan. The policy is widely promoted.

While L&Q is making progress on female and ethnic minority representation, it suffered a small dip in the representation of people with disabilities recently, which is likely to be related to the pandemic as well as data problems.  Last year it set up a disability staff network to give disabled staff a greater voice and it is working on building a disability forum for residents. 

On socioeconomic equality, L&Q offers the Living Wage and did its best not to furlough staff during the pandemic. The aim was to offer stability. Jan says that its approach to equality and flexibility and its sense of purpose are key factors in attracting candidates.  “We are opening doors across the organisation,” she says.


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