International Women's Day - Q&A with Claire Howe

International Women's Day - Q&A with Claire Howe

International Women’s Day 2020
This year for International Women’s Day, we talk to our Executive Director of Corporate Services, Claire Howe - pictured striking the #EachforEqual pose - about her career journey, what diversity and inclusivity mean to her and about how we can reach gender equality.

This year's theme - #EachforEqual - is about an enabled world - individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.

We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements.

Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world.

Let's all be #EachforEqual. 

Q&A with Claire Howe

Why did you get into housing?
I started off my career by turning down a job offer to work at Inside Housing instead taking up a role selling advertising for International Freighting Weekly. But some things aren’t meant to be and two years later, I wanted to move on to something that makes a difference to people’s lives, and social housing beckoned once more. I saw an advert for Circle 33 Housing Trust – now part of Clarion – working in the call centre and got offered a Customer Services Advisor role. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to move around the organisation, as a Customer Services Manager, Policy Officer, Communications Manager and finally as Head of Communications for the newly merged Circle Anglia.

Having a number of different roles stood me in good stead for the rest of my career and gave me a really good grounding as I became more senior. Always value organisations where you get the chance to move around and learn new skills.

What do you most like about your current role at B3Living?
It’s a bit of a cliché but the people at B3Living are amazing. It’s definitely the best thing about the organisation which makes it stand out from other places I’ve worked. And because it’s smaller than some of the bigger housing associations – with around 5,000 homes – there’s less red tape, which means it’s easier to get things done.

How do you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
I started at B3Living when my son was four. Now he is 12, I look back and am thankful to have worked somewhere that really does allow you to have a work life balance. All too often career progression means sacrificing family life but that wasn’t the case at B3Living, something that many other employers could learn from – following stints as an HR Manager, Head of HR and Head of Corporate Services I was promoted to my current role for Executive Director of Corporate Services. The common theme was the support I got to work flexibly, so I could make school pick-ups and continue working in the evenings from home. It required discipline to make it work, but with a supportive employer, it’s definitely possible.

Why is diversity and inclusivity so important in an organisation?
Every single person brings a different perspective, and if you truly embrace diversity within an organisation you get a much wider range of views, which in turn brings better decision making based on that variety. It’s about so much more than gender, allowing people to be themselves and bringing what they offer to the table. Everyone has a right to be included and to be heard, so the challenge for organisations today is to make sure that all people are included in corporate decision-making, regardless of their identity or circumstance.

Have you got any advice for aspiring female leaders?
Remember that you have more transferable skills then you think and be confident in your abilities. Sometimes I think women don’t always have the confidence to put themselves forward. But the skills you pick up during your career are there and you just need the confidence to believe in yourself and your abilities when you go for that next promotion. The key is to seize opportunities and apply for the job that may seem a bit scary – when you know you have the right skills, but are held back by self-doubt.

What we can we all do to create a more gender-equal world?
Have the courage of your convictions to call things out when they aren’t right. Whether it’s racism, sexism, homophobia you know if something isn’t right. If we all did our bit to call out these behaviours the world would be a far better place.

It’s also about challenging unconscious bias. We’re faced with historical and societal stereotypes, carried down through the ages – men can’t be carers or look after children, while women can’t be doctors or good at maths. Our challenge – whether male or female – is to be aware of these stereotypes, so we’re aware of them in ourselves and tackle them when other people cling to outdated thinking.