Structure and governance

This theme seeks to assess the housing provider’s overall structure and approach to governance.

Aster is a charitable registered society, registered with the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH). We hold the highest possible ratings for governance (G1) and viability (V1), which was reaffirmed by the RSH in December 2020 following an in-depth assessment.

Our governance framework is structured on the UK Corporate Governance Code. This is a set of principles of good corporate governance that we follow in our governance arrangements, including those around board leadership and effectiveness, remuneration, accountability and stakeholder relations.

Board and Trustees

Our Overlap Boards (the Board) are responsible for making sure we meet our social purpose, vision and values, and is supported by our Executive Board. The overall role and purpose of the Executive
Board is to ensure that there is effective leadership of, and a system of assurance between, the operations of the Aster Group and the Overlap Boards and their sub-committees.

One of the key success factors of our Board, is the balance of skills and experience that our Non-Executives bring. As part of the ongoing skills assessment of our Boards and Committees, we introduced the Board Skills Vision, which aims to quantify the key skills and characteristics we are looking for at Aster. The Board Skills Vision is a holistic set of criteria focusing on everything from fact-based judgements to emotional intelligence, teamwork and values. We recruit on cultural fit and value alignment, just as much as we do on experience.

The Board recognises that effective succession planning is not only a fundamental component of board effectiveness but is also integral to the delivery of Aster’s strategic plans. It is essential in ensuring a continuous level of quality in management, in avoiding instability by helping mitigate the risks which may be associated with any unforeseen events, such as the departure of a key individual, and in promoting diversity.

The Board has approved a Board Membership, Recruitment and Succession Policy and the Group Remuneration & Nominations Committee routinely reviews the succession plan for the Overlap
Boards and the Committees to facilitate future recruitment in a timely manner. The Committee works to ensure a continuous flow of talent is available through developing existing directors and independent members, and also by identifying suitable external candidates to ensure a refreshing of talent and ideas, and the ongoing maintenance of skills.

When recruiting, by mapping our Board skills we can get a clear idea of what we are looking for in our applicants and what each of them could bring to the collective. From our most recent recruitment in
the latter part of 2019, our successful applicants have brought a wealth of experience from different sectors and have been able to add value immediately. As with all of our decisions, the long-term sustainability of the business is central and the skills we have recruited in risk, digital transformation, compliance and a whole new range of experiences will help our Boards and Committees make better decisions as a result.

Colleague wellbeing

This theme seeks to assess how staff are supported and how their wellbeing is considered.

The work we are doing as part of Programme Experience – our business wide transformation programme, and one of the three enablers of our corporate strategy – which aims to improve our colleague experience, help us to become more effective and efficient, reduce our environmental impact and ultimately improve customer satisfaction with the services we provide. The work we’ve done in the past year has helped us to continue to deliver our vital services in new ways throughout the pandemic, while still looking for new and better ways of working – helping to ensure we’re focussed on our long-term future.

The impact of the pandemic meant that we focused on using technology and virtual collaboration to support our people. We were already well placed to work from home when the instruction came, however we have continued to connect with our colleagues through technology, ensuring that productivity and engagement remained high throughout the period.

We have demonstrated our continued commitment to our colleague wellbeing, rapidly switching our wellbeing programmes and learning offering to online platforms. While the core of our wellbeing programme hasn’t changed, as the needs of our people changed, we adapted our approach so that we could support our colleagues through furlough, working from home, with children at home and then through further lockdowns. We launched the Thrive mental health app which is endorsed by the NHS and links to our existing Occupational Health and Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) services. Our Mental Health First Aid network has continued to develop, with volunteers staying updated with training and providing support throughout.

We have also developed a menopause support programme, including Hot Topic sofa sessions, leader awareness sessions and talks from leading authorities in menopause and women’s health was assessed by an expert independent panel to make sure we’re doing all we can to support colleagues experiencing the menopause. Our work has been recognised by Menopause Friendly, who have awarded us the ‘Menopause Friendly Employer’ accreditation.

 In our November 2020 colleague survey, 84% of colleagues who responded said that they felt Aster was committed to their wellbeing. 88% reported that they believe Aster is truly committed to the health and safety of colleagues. As we prepare for a new way of working post pandemic, our Rebalance and Reconnect theme will help our colleagues to make the most of a hybrid working model, keeping a focus on their wellbeing.

We have undertaken a full review of role profiles and job evaluation, market benchmarking and an equal pay review. Our new pay framework was implemented in April 2021 and will help us to continue to demonstrate fairness and transparency in the way that pay is set and reviewed in future, aligned to our chosen market position.

In 2020, we published our D&I policy and principles. Launched during National Inclusion Week in September 2020, our aim was to raise the profile of D&I by raising awareness, giving our colleagues the opportunity to educate themselves and to start a narrative in the business which will enable representation, involvement and action. We also launched our LGBTQ+ colleague network, working with the Group to influence policy development, training and a focus on inclusion through benchmarking with partners such as the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei), and consideration of the HouseProud accreditation.

Since April 2017, the Gender Pay Gap report has been an annual compliance requirement of all employers of more than 250 employees. The assessment is based on company data at a single point in time (5 April) each year. The reported gender pay gap shows the difference between the average earnings of men and women and is expressed as a percentage of male earnings.

Since its introduction, our gender pay gap has been decreasing except for 2020, where the metric was affected by the impact of a specific recruitment campaign in our maintenance operations.

As a result of this campaign, which saw more men than women join Aster within one grouping, there has been a notable impact on one of the reported quartiles, resulting in a small upward shift in the overall pay gap for the business. This is indicative of the sensitivities of the Gender Pay Gap methodology to fluctuations in organisational demographics.

Although our Gender Pay Gap compares well to the UK average of 15.5% in 2020, addressing the pay gap never stops and our Diversity & Inclusion action plan helps to embed inclusivity at the heart of the organisation.

To date, key achievements outside of the work on the development of a new pay framework, include:

  • MumsNet accredited flexible employer 
  • Implementation of flexibility principles, including Flexible Leave that recognise colleagues have many demands on their time, enabling work to be done alongside other commitments
  • 146 women occupying leadership roles out of 294 
  • Structured and tailored leadership development offer for aspiring and new leaders
  • Committed to providing meaningful learning experiences for young people, and despite the pandemic have continued to invest in apprenticeships
  • Embedding Restorative Practice within The Aster Way themes of transparency, freedom and trust, and experiment and adapt. 

Our focus now includes:

  • Blind (to all protected/non protected characteristics) recruitment and selection processes
  • A focus on family leave, rather than just maternity leave, and encouraging either parent/carer to have time off to support their family
  • Job pricing process to be embedded and linked to workforce planning, ensuring salaries advertised are evidence based on independent data
  • An updated talent and resourcing approach to ensure our default position is to share all vacancies with internal candidates first and are prioritised for development and access to opportunities
  • Leadership development offer to provide leaders with the tools to support and build resilience in times of change
  • Further extending our approach to flexibility, including our involvement in the national Flex Appeal campaign.

We have included the CEO to worker pay ratio based on option B of the BEIS methodology. The methodology uses the Gender Pay Gap (GPG) data to calculate the ratio in three steps.

Step 1 - Rank the remuneration of our employees from lowest to highest based on the pre-existing GPG pay data, and identify those employees at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles of the employee population based on this pre-existing data.

Step 2 - Calculate the three employees’ pay and benefits for the year.

Step 3 - Calculate pay ratios for employees at each percentile using the latest CEO Single Total Figure of Remuneration (STFR) and the employee pay and benefits figures identified at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile points for the relevant financial year.

Our CEO to worker pay ratio compares favourably to FTSE 100 median ratio which was 84:1 in the same period. The data below sets out the CEO to worker pay ratio for the various percentiles:

We aspire to become a Living Wage accredited employer committed to diversity and inclusion and will be investigating this in more detail following the implementation of our new pay framework in April 2021.

Building on our transformation journey over the past six years, Programme Experience will improve and modernise our customer and colleague experience.

Through four key work streams, we’ll work collaboratively to ensure we can respond to rapidly changing customer and colleague expectations and can continue to succeed long into the future.

Specifically, it brings together:

  • The Future of Customer Experience - new Customer Experience strategies designed to create effortless, end-to-end customer journeys
  • The Aster Offer – our work to transform our colleague offer and experience
  • Project Dynamics – the technology enabler for business transformation, making sure our technology supports positive customer and colleague experiences the technology enabler for business transformation
  • Right Spaces Right Places – our work to make sure our spaces offer flexibility and choice to our
    colleagues and customers, while supporting our commitment to become a more sustainable business that is financially strong.

Supply chain

This theme seeks to assess if the housing provider procures responsibly.

We ensure that Sustainable Procurement meets the requirements for goods, services, utilities and works not only on a cost–benefit analysis, but with a view to maximizing net benefits for us and the macro environment.

There are three areas of focus:

  • Economic (e.g. corporate governance, ethical trading, payment on time)
  • Social (e.g. diversity, human rights)
  • Environmental (biodiversity, carbon footprint, climate change).

To support Sustainable Procurement, we insist on adherence to the following Policies from all of our suppliers on all tenders with an estimated contract value of £50,000 and over:

  • Aster Group Data Protection and Confidentiality (inc GDPR).
  • Aster Group Equality and Diversity
  • Aster Group Environmental Sustainability
  • Health and Safety Declaration
  • Modern Slavery Act Compliance.

Sustainable Procurement continues to be a key consideration when producing any tender and
will enable:

  • Cost savings - focusing on following a whole life costing methodology when sourcing goods and services
  • Enhance our corporate image
  • Creating markets for new products and services, by using technology to develop and market sustainable products.