• Kate Still

“Women must decide the future of where and how women live”

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on the achievements of women across society and, indeed, making it through this last year as a woman is a great achievement.

But we also need to recognise that it’s never been a more difficult time for women who are the end users of, and work in, the markets in which we specialise – care homes, later living and social housing. Women are 40% more likely than men to be residents of care homes, all of whom have been isolated from their families up until recently. Most frontline workers in care homes are women and as a result have been at higher risk of contracting the virus than those in other sectors and roles.

Furthermore, in Europe, almost two in five (36%) women aged 60+ live in a single-person household, compared to one in five (17%) men – therefore, are more likely to have experienced isolation as assisted living and extra care residents.

It is also well-documented that the UK social housing crisis is a women’s issue, due to socio-economic inequality and family pressures. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that mothers in the UK were 1·5 times more likely than fathers to have either quit their job or lost it during lockdown. This is linked to the fact that women are overrepresented in many of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19, such as food service, retail and entertainment.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes world events to shine the spotlight on women’s issues. It also takes events like this to uncover the need to evolve new approaches and thinking in these markets. Marrying these two deficits is essential if we’re going to invest in and design care home, later living and social housing solutions that are fit for the future.

For this reason, we need more women to be at the top table when it comes to driving design innovation in these markets. By being more reflective of the markets we serve, we’re better equipped to tailor our approach to specific demographics and segments. Of course, this need for diversity goes beyond gender. When you have a team that is truly diverse in gender, geography, experience, and age, they will be far more capable of coming up with outside-the-box solutions that drive real change. This is why it’s important to support initiatives like International Women’s Day, but also like the 10,000 black internships campaign which we signed up to last summer.

Reimagining the future of residential care and of social housing requires openness to a new way of doing things. It means looking at the very best solutions from across UK borders. It means inviting experts from new and different disciplines to contribute to the conversation. And it means allowing minority voices to not only be heard but be amplified, listened to, acted on and invested in.

Age diversity is particularly poignant. Younger people – particularly women – are the future end users in these markets. Changing end user needs are the reason why we need to ensure that the development and design of care homes and later living residences, as well as social housing, continue to be fit for purpose. To drive this future focus we not only need more women at the top table, but younger and more diverse women.

So if you have daughters who, like many young people at the moment, are at a loss as to what to do about their future careers following this pandemic, perhaps speak to them about the opportunities in these development markets. Because there are opportunities and they could make a real difference for the future of where and how women live.


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