Learning from our disability pay gap analysis at Evolve Housing + Support

Fatima Musa , 04 August 2022

It’s always useful to start with some numbers.

An estimated 14.6 million people in the UK have a disability, including 21% of working-age adults. In 2019, the ONS found that 24.7% of 16- to 64-year-olds with a disability lived in rented social housing, which is higher than average.

The NHF’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) report published in December 2021 revealed a clear lack of representation of disabled people throughout housing associations' workforces. Only 8% of housing association staff, executives and board members indicate they have a disability, compared to 24% of the population in stock location.

What does this mean? In short, in a sector where the experiences of disabled people are extremely important, there is a lack of disabled staff throughout the housing association workforce in England.

This imbalance has motivated our efforts at Evolve to improve support for disabled colleagues. This year, as part of our commitment, we carried out our first disability pay gap analysis.  

This follows on from the NHF’s EDI report recommendations urging housing associations to review and update their workforce EDI data to address gaps on disability and seek to improve the representation of disabled people at all levels of the organisation. This is particularly important as there are proportionately more disabled people living in social housing than in any other tenure.

With 8% of our staff currently identifying as having a disability (although as we come on to, numbers may actually be higher), we are certainly not perfect but understand the importance of sharing our experience with the sector.

All organisations are at different stages with tackling this issue, and we should be open about the realities and challenges involved in driving change to improve disabled representation.

This has given us the opportunity to share some valuable learned lessons from our first disability pay gap analysis. 

Lessons learned

Employee consultation makes a big difference

This is the first time we have conducted an analysis on our disability pay gap having done so knowing that we don’t have the complete picture of disability within Evolve but we wanted to start somewhere.

We are using the government’s Disability Confident scheme to guide our work in this area. As part of that, we have set up a Disability Confident group comprised of colleagues from across the organisation. As we conducted our pay gap review, the group acted as an effective sounding board for ideas and enabled us to foster ownership of the project amongst staff.

Beware small samples

Our results showed a disability pay gap of 17.8% in favour of disabled colleagues. However, whilst this appears to be good news, the number of people identifying as disabled across the organisation was lower than we expected, suggesting under-reporting.

One possibility we are exploring is that senior staff felt more comfortable reporting disabilities than junior staff. This could be for different reasons, as they may feel more confident in their roles or more connected to the organisation. If true, it is something to watch out for that could skew pay gap results.

Under-reporting raises its own questions

Regardless of what level of the organisation it occurred in, our analysis suggested the under-reporting of disabilities. This raises the question of why, and what can be done about it?

To improve responses next year, we will make it easier for colleagues to share their data by improving self-reporting options on our HR system. We will also implement a wider communications plan to increase awareness of the project and answer people’s questions. Understanding wider barriers highlights once again the need for staff consultation and we will work with our Disability Confident group to understand what may stop people from sharing personal information on disabilities.

Pay gap reporting becomes more accurate the more you do it

Because we had previously conducted gender and ethnicity pay gap research, we had certain internal processes in place, which did make this easier than it may otherwise have been. For example, we already produced EDI data on a quarterly basis. This is important because especially for smaller housing associations the task can feel extremely big. It gets easier when done year on year, and systems are put in place to facilitate it.

There is still much more learning to be done on how we support colleagues with disabilities and improve representation. Conducting practices like a pay gap analysis are helping us to get there.

The lessons learned at Evolve highlight the importance of analysing pay gaps in its own right and provide insights beyond the hard financial figures. In doing so, it brings us closer to tackling inequality and making changes to deliver diversity and inclusion within our workforce.

Disability Confident best practice for housing associations