Gender balance in local government is 50 years away

Tue 28 Sep 2021

Gender balance in local government is 50 years away

Local government has a powerful impact on all our lives; hence it's only natural that the decision-making process accounts for the input of women and men. Unfortunately, however, the female representation in leadership positions at local government remains low.

The latest data released by gender equality campaigning charity Fawcett Society show that only 34% of the 4,980 councillors elected in May were women. If the representation rate remains at this level, we won't see gender parity in local councils until 2077.

The Fawcett Society released the data early this year following Freedom of Information requests.

For Felicia Willow, interim chief executive at Fawcett Society, the pace of change in local government is far too slow. "During the pandemic, we saw how significantly councils matter for women, whether that's the care packages for disabled women that were disrupted or the children's centres for new mothers that suffered closures," she said.

Willow argued that political parties are failing to make progress on gender parity. "[They] need to urgently set out their action plans for a change of course. Councils are making some headway with policies – now we need to see action from the parties," she said.

There's research galore supporting the business and moral case for having gender balance within organisations. A growing number of studies show a link between more women in senior positions and the financial performance of organisations. For example, a report by McKinsey found that gender-balanced companies have a 56% higher operating profit than male-only ones.

There's also factual evidence proving the benefit of having women in decision-making roles. Research published by Cambridge University Press in 2014 showed that violence against women and girls is 1.7 times more likely to be identified as a policy priority where local Police and Crime Commissioners are women.

Glacial progress

Progress in improving women's representation in local government is at a standstill. While gender parity in a leadership position is far on the horizon, 75% of the 1.3 million people employed by councils are women.

Progress is also slow on the equality front, too. For example, there has been an increase in the number of councils with maternity or paternity policies. However, three-quarters of local councils don't have maternity or paternity policies in place for their councillors.

In the context of constitutional change and devolution, it is more important than ever that leadership teams in local government are fully representative of the populations they serve.

Women in Local Government returns on 2 December, following successful events over the past three years. This online event offers practical advice and coaching on how to address the barriers affecting the progression of women in local government and gives actionable insights on how to further develop your career in times of change.

Just some of the sessions you don't want to miss:

  • Examining the current landscape for women in local government
  • The Power of Storytelling: using storytelling to overcome self-imposed barriers
  • Preparing for success: laying the groundwork to communicate with impact
  • Thinking strategically: using self-awareness to drive better decision-making
  • Leading a change in culture: where do we go from here?
Visit the Women in Local Government website, explore the full agenda and secure your place today.

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