IWD 2021 – Women in Housing who Choose to Challenge


This International Women’s Day, Tai Pawb has caught up with six women in different roles across the housing sector in Wales to hear their thoughts on gender equality (and equality all-round!); what are the biggest challenges, what are we doing well and what we can we do better? 

Rhiannon Hicks

Tell us about yourself

I have worked in the housing sector now for nearly 4 years. I started by delivering an Equality and Diversity training programme for all the staff at Tai Ceredigion (now Barcud). I worked on equalities policies and ensured that equalities were embedded in the ethos of Tai Ceredigion. I also worked on data protection and supported The Care Society, one of Barcud’s subsidiaries. Within Barcud, my current role is Executive Support for the Director of Finance and ICT. 

And the challenges?

The challenges we are facing on gender equality do not only affect the housing sector but Wales as a whole. Gender diversity on boards is still unbalanced in many sectors across Wales and, although this is increasing across certain sectors, a lot of work still needs to be done to promote women on boards across the sectors.  

There is a lack of gender diversity also within maintenance whether that be surveyors or plumbers and electricians. Programmes promoting and supporting women to enter maintenance roles would increase this and also to break down the stereotype that this is only a role for one gender.  

The number of women within leadership roles are increasing across the housing sector; one thing we are doing well is promoting and providing schemes and training programmes such as Women Into Leadership courses.  

The pandemic has adversely affected women either through loss of employment, caring responsibilities, domestic abuse and the resulting risk of homelessness. What the housing sector could do better is to ensure that early engagement is established with tenants especially instances with domestic abuse.  

Gender equality has made a number of advancements over the years to address some of the issues from training programmes, shadowing schemes and more, however there is a still a way to go to address inequality across all protected characteristics where women are represented.  


Gemma Watkins

Tell us about yourself

I started my career as a housing trainee with Cardiff Councilstudying part time to gain both

 a HNC and then degree in Housing Studies. I joined Taff Housing Association as a Housing Officer and progressed within the organisation to Head of Housing & Communities. I have always had a keen interest in tenant engagement and am passionate about putting residents at the heart of the services that we deliver, so much so that I based my MSc dissertation on the impact of tenant participation on shaping services.   

I took a secondment as Digital Project Manager and used my experience as a “Lean Practitioner” and qualified Agile Coach to lead the Associations digital by default journey.  

Following a career break to raise my young family I have recently returned to the housing sector as Director of Housing & Communities at Aelwyd Housing and I was recently appointed as a Board Member at Merthyr Valley Homes.  

And the challenges?

“Let us be the Change that is needed”. Traditionally the Welsh housing sector has fared far better than other industries on gender equality as we see, year on year, more and more women holding senior roles. This is to be celebrated and as a sector we have made huge strides to address issues around gender inequality. But before we congratulate ourselves on a job well done, we need to take a closer look and ask ourselves, was their rise to the top as smooth as their male counterparts? We need to ask ourselves what are the hidden sacrifices being made to achieve equality?   

The pandemic has challenged many assumptions around the working environment. It has shown us that being office based is not a necessity to delivering excellent services, it has shown us that women working from home juggling schoolwork, children, caring responsibilities, and a job, demonstrates monumental commitment. The pandemic has illustrated that women are leading organisations in uncertain times and in unchartered waters, with children on their laps, pets around their feet, with heroic focus on staff and resident wellbeing. These women are figures of stability, and calm and hope. Yet, there are still so few senior and executive appointments advertised on a part time or flexible working basis. We are still operating with the mindset that senior positions require one person on a full time basis. The numbers of women employed by our maintenance contractors and within our trades teams remains a challenge, as is the lack of women of colour serving on boards, or employed within senior roles across the sector. We need to question this, understand it and address it.  

We have an opportunity to inspire the next generation of future leaders, to raise aspirations and to ensure that the path behind us is smoother for those coming after us. Let us use the lessons learned during this pandemic to move forward, celebrating the diversity of thought within the sector and creating tangibleprogressive actions. Let us be the change that is needed. We have a tremendous amount to celebrate this International Women’s Day, but we also have a responsibility to continue to challenge ourselves, our colleagues, and the sector to do more and to do better. 


Michelle Reid

Tell us about yourself

I’ve worked in and around the housing sector for the past 32 years, spending most of that time working alongside people in supported housing settings. I led an HIV charity in Manchester, and later worked for TPAS England, before moving to Wales in 2014 to join Cynon Taf Community Housing Group. Two years ago I joined Merthyr Valleys Homes, Wales’ first tenant and staff owned mutual.  

And the challenges?

The challenges today are the same as they have always been. We’re blessed to live in a country where equality is taken seriously, but we have a long road to travel to translate our ambitions into reality. The housing sector is fantastic at awareness-raising, and we need to be just as good at taking action throughout every day of the year to make sure our policies and decisions include and improve the situation of cis and trans women.  

In the past twelve months we’ve seen how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted negatively on women. As primary care-givers, as low-paid workers, as NHS and care home staff, as retail workers, and others: it’s predominantly women who have borne the brunt of the consequences of Covid. Lockdown exacerbated the existing pandemic of domestic abuse, disproportionately placing women at the receiving end. We all responded well to the immediate challenges before us. Longer term, the housing sector can continue to do much to rise to the challenge of gender equality as landlords and employers by considering all our plans and ambitions through an equality lens, knowing the facts about gender inequality, and working to create inclusive, gender-informed, intersectional organisations. In Wales we’re absolutely on the right course, but we all have to pledge to keep going.  


Nazia Azad-Warren

Tell us about yourself

As Tenant Engagement Lead at Cadwyn, I spend my days thinking about how the organisation can place tenants at the heart of service and business delivery and how to go about creating the mechanisms needed to achieve this. The right to participate is crucial to our sectorhowever there are many barriers (real and perceived) that are often aligned with equality and social justice issues that prevent the true capturing of tenant voice in housing.  

And the challenges?

Considering it is my role to lead on engagement at the organisation I (naturally) spend a lot of my time thinking about the dynamics that prevent engagement in all its forms in the first place, and the role that a) I must play in enabling, facilitating, and supporting participation and b) the role, we as a housing sector in general must play in enabling engagement and active citizenship for our communities. When I think about that, there are three words that usually come to mind – ‘power, privilege and disadvantage’.  

I feel that there remains a huge power imbalance between landlords and tenants/residents etc. This imbalance is heightened even further when you think about intersectionality, and this is where privilege and disadvantage come in to play. I often wonder how voices like my own mother can be captured and valued – the voices of womxn who do not speak English, who are financially poor and have spent a large part of their lives in a Wales that has often pictured them as being a burden to society and not what they actually are – an asset and being of value. How do we as housing providers enable their voices, their views, and their lived experiences to shape how we deliver services? More importantly – how do we get this right?  

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘choose to challenge’ and for me, one of the biggest challenges I see facing our sector is participation of seldom heard voices. This observation is far from ground-breaking but we are still so far from the ‘ideal’ that it simply has to be talked about. For me, it is a personal journey that involves hard reflection on my actions to deliver on this as I know that there are many milestones that I need to hit before ‘getting it right’. It is about asking myself how I can capture the views of womxn who have and continue to quietly live their lives by (simply existing and/or) caring, providing, and sustaining households and using their input to create a more equal Wales. I welcome the culture change around engagement in the sector and its progression from simple ‘tick box’ exercises to one of true co-production (where possible). However, I feel that as we move forward in our COVID recovery, we must not forget about marginalised groups that have become side-lined as a consequence of long-standing socio-economic disadvantage and systemic oppression.  

There are so many challenges that the housing sector is facing but I would like to firstly remind myself and secondly, remind you, that we are in positions of power. We can and must create platforms to enable and facilitate marginalised voices to not only have a seat at the table but be heard and valued with dignity and respect 


Marilyn Bryan-Jones

Tell us about yourself

I’m hugely passionate about the housing sector in Wales. I have had the privilege of facilitating a project on behalf of Taff Housing which aimed to increase the representation of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people. This project won the “Pat Chown Innovation Award”. I also facilitated a two-day workshop on application forms and interview skills. The positive result was that some people later went on to gets jobs in the housing field. 

And the challenges?

I believe that the Welsh specific duty on pay differences has resulted in a positive result for employees. Housing organisations in Wales are leading the way by undertaking analysis and acting on the results. 

We have done so many things well and the resultare that nearly half of Welsh Housing organisations are headed by women. There has also been a great increase in the number of women in middle management. Wales is leading the way in bridging the gap. 

However, what has not worked so well is that they do not currently represent the communities that they serve either at board or staff level. Part time workers do not have the same career progression as full-time workers. We also need to encourage more males into support roles. We also need to continue to reduce the pay inequality at all levels. 

The future looks promising for the housing sector and my desire to promote, diversity, equality and inclusion seems set to continue in 2021 and beyond. 


Fran Bevan

Tell us about yourself

I became a tenant in 2006 and got involved in the stock transfer to Merthyr Valleys Homes (MVH). I became a board member and served as Vice Chair to a great female chair, Nicola Evans. Following MVH becoming a tenant staff mutualI was proud to become the first tenant chair of our Democratic Body and continue to serve as a tenant representative.
Two years ago I joined the board of Cynon Taf Housing Group (CTHG), a great community housing provider whose values I shareI am proud to say that both MVH and CTHG are led by women CEOs and board chairs. My main focus in being involved in social housing is that tenant voices are heard, listened to and their concerns acted upon. Tenants MUST be seen as part of the organisation and part of decision making regarding their homes and community and am proud to say that I shout this to all and sundry. 

And the challenges?

I’ve never really chosen to challenge – it’s in my DNA, passed on to me by a strong mother who made it clear that I could achieve anything if wanted it. I want all mothers and fathers to give their daughters that same encouragement so girls have faith in themselves to achieve their dreams and not just in careers that are seen as femaleoriented. Be a plumber, an engineer, a bricklayer, an astronaut. So let’s continue to offer apprenticeships to women and girls and encourage our contractors to do the same so we can continue to challenge gender stereotypes  
The housing sector in Wales is doing really well with women CEOs, Directors and Boards. However I would like us to concentrate on recruiting more women from outside the sector and in a younger age range. 
We need to see more women in politics at local and national levels. Imagine our first Woman First Minister in Wales: I really hope to see it in my life time.