How diverse is the housing association workforce in England?

09 December 2021

We’ve been working with members, using data to better understand equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) of the housing association workforce in England.

Social housing is rooted in addressing inequalities, and as a sector we provide millions of homes for people across the country. We are a sector that serves many diverse communities, including LGBTQ+ people, people of all ethnic minorities.

This report presents the findings of the first ever national picture of EDI within the housing association workforce in England. We have collected EDI data from 174 organisations, representing 71% of homes owned by housing associations in England. The data is for workforce, staff, executives, and board members.

Housing associations have taken an important first step in understanding more about diversity within the sector. The data sets out the scale of the challenge ahead; allowing us to see where we are currently, and to better understand the key areas of focus to make progress and become a truly equal, diverse, and inclusive sector.

Key findings

  • Data gaps – There are large gaps in what we know about our workforce, executive teams, and boards – this makes it difficult to build accurate pictures to compare to population data. We have sex data for 99% and age data for 95% of the workforce, making them the most accurate. The biggest gaps are around caring responsibilities and socio-economic characteristics, with between 1% and 4% of workforce data available.
  • Staff are more likely to choose not to share religion and sexual orientation, with 8% and 7% of the workforce choosing prefer not to say for these characteristics.
  • Representation – there is a clear lack of representation for disabled people across all levels within the sector (8% of staff/executives/boards identify as disabled compared to 24% for the population). We are also under representative of younger people (16-24 years), with 14% of the population aged 16-24 years compared to 7% of our workforce. Our executive teams are not as ethnically diverse as our staff, with 90% of executives White compared to 81% of staff and 83% of the population. Our executive teams and boards also have fewer females than at staff or population level, just 45% of executives and 42% of boards are female, compared to 55% of staff and 51% of the population.


By being transparent and accountable, we show how serious housing associations are about representing the communities we serve, building greater trust, and unlocking the benefits of a diverse sector. We must act on the findings of this report.

Based on our findings, our recommendations are that housing associations in England should:

Engage: talk to their workforce, boards, and stakeholders to scrutinise recruitment practices and understand attitudes and behaviours around EDI culture within the organisation, with the intention of better understanding inclusion in the workplace and improving data accuracy through more voluntary data sharing.

Measure: use the NHF’s EDI data tool (or internal EDI data) to review representation amongst staff, management, and leadership (including boards) within the organisation and any departments.

Act: use data to inform EDI strategies and action plans, using targeted action to make progress towards becoming truly equal, diverse, and inclusive across all levels and teams within the organisation. The NHF highlights examples of good practice on our website.

The NHF will be working with our EDI in Housing member group to use this data to plan the next steps and ensure we are supporting the sector to make change happen. We will repeat the data collection exercise in 2023, to give time for equality, diversity, and inclusion strategies and action plans to make an impact and for data gaps to be reduced.

EDI regional data breakdown

The NHF has also published regional breakdowns of the data for housing associations to review and act on.