The 7 percent solution

Posted: 12th September 2014

The 7 percent solution

There have been a number of things that have happened in response to the increasing challenges of the working environment for housing associations: a far higher emphasis on skills-based boards, smaller boards that are more adaptable and flexible, a strong emphasis on co-regulation and customer scrutiny, greater sophistication of financial and risk management and so on. Each in its own way is a perfectly logical and sensible approach to addressing the challenges of post-2008 governance.

However, the recent findings of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report provide a slightly different perspective on what the outcomes of those changes might be in terms of wider diversity questions. There is certainly evidence that gender diversity is static as the latest Board Development Agency survey suggests. However, it is unlikely that many boards measure or take stock of the indicators used by the commission: attendance at independent school, the type of university education with specific reference to Russell Group and Oxbridge universities for example. But does it matter?

Given that one of the findings of the Commission was that 44% of public body chairs went to Oxbridge (compared to less than 1% of the population as a whole) and 45% went to independent schools (as against 7% of the population) then there seems to be a clear implication that the skills and experience for good governance and leadership in the public sector is mostly to be “formed on the playing fields of independent schools and finished in Oxbridge’s dreaming spires”.

Somehow though, it doesn’t feel right that an outcome so notably elitist should arise in a sector that is rooted in social enterprise and diversity, and unequivocally focused on developing and fostering the appropriate culture and values. So in the spirit of ‘you manage what you measure’ maybe it’s time that boards test some of the Commission’s measures as part of the annual appraisal framework and see what answers come back.

For further information contact Mark Sweeny:

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