what are hOusing association boards looking for? 

We summarise the key messages from our Boardroom Insights evening: Social Housing boards. November 2018. See our upcoming Boardroom Insights events.  

The three speakers at our Social Housing Boardroom Insights events were unanimous – a passion for the organisation’s purpose is a vital ingredient for Housing Association board members. Taking a customer-focussed approach and being keen and able to listen to residents was also highlighted as an important quality. Housing associations are much more than a landlord though, so a commitment to ensuring people have a decent home but also to the broader life of the community is also essential.
The other key message was that you do NOT need property experience. The board as a whole requires deep industry knowledge but individual NEDs bring the broader range of skills a successful housing organisation requires. Caroline Tolhurst, a property professional now with a non-executive portofolio in the sector, mentioned that out of 6 current positions advertised on the boards she sits on, only two stipulated experience in the property sector.
For example, strategic finance expertise is essential to grapple with the often complex financial issues involved in the property market. Housing Associations have a reputation for being good employers, so HR is a key element for the boardroom. As with all boards, an understanding of governance, compliance and strategy is useful. Strategy in particular is a growing area for many housing groups where the board can generate ideas and vision. Health and safety is also a top of the agenda post-Grenfell.
Some of the other skills beneficial for a social housing board are: customer focus; marketing and communications; stakeholder management; and systems and risk. In fact, Kate Franklin, a NED for MHS Homes in Kent, stressed need for a broad set of skills as one minute you will be dealing with a customer issue (residents) and then next you will be talking about intricate loan or financial issues.
Housing Associations can vary significantly in size, but all are complex organisations with staff, residents, contractors, a range of funding sources and property in the mix. Karen Anderson, co-founder of the Indigo House group which support non-executives in the sector,  pointed out you may not be able to sit on the board of more than one housing association, so do your research and choose who you approach carefully. She recommended looking for their succession planning policy on their website as that will give you an insight into what is happening on the board, as well as contacting board members if possible.
A final point our panellists agreed on is that a Housing Association non-executive position is very unlikely to come to you and that persistence is often required. You need to keep your eye out through networking and seeking support from key contacts. Caroline recommended approaching your connections for a sense check on your CV, then keeping them updated about and engaged in your search.

Don’t forget -  Women on Boards subscribers can get a 1-on-1 board CV review with experienced NEDs and can look through the frequent social housing vacancies posted on our Vacancy Board.