Comment

23.08.17

We must scrutinise gender in local government

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2017

Jennifer Glover, policy researcher at the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), says gender representation is monitored in other sectors – so why not local government?

In other sectors, a harsh light is being shone on gender representation and concrete steps are being taken on a national and organisational level. The 2010 Davies Review of Women on Boards saw the beginning of a concerted effort on the part of government and industry to tackle the persistently low female representation on FTSE 100 boards – as a result, the proportion of women on boards has doubled in five years, from 12.5% in 2010 to 25% in 2015. This year, new government rules were introduced requiring all public and private sector organisations employing over 250 people to publish gender pay gap figures annually.

Local politics, however, has mostly escaped this scrutiny and avoided having targets or requirements placed upon it. Given that only 17% of council leaders in England are female, while women constitute 32% of MPs, 26% of the Cabinet, and 39% of public body boards, LGiU and the Fawcett Society decided to undertake a comprehensive year-long commission, asking ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’.

Chaired by Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Gillian Keegan MP, the commission heard from women in local government across the country through evidence sessions, open consultations, a survey of 2,400 councillors and Freedom of Information requests, and gained an unprecedented understanding of the types and scale of barriers facing women’s political participation. The final report and recommendations were released in July, calling for action from local and central government to address the situation.

The stories we heard were often quite shocking, both in terms of the hostile working environment – 33% of women councillors have experienced sexist comments from other councillors – and the antiquated practices that would be completely unacceptable in any other workplace – only 4% of councils have a formal maternity, paternity or adoption policy in place for councillors. Childcare and other caring costs are often inadequately reimbursed and many councillors with caring responsibilities, of which the majority are women, choose not to claim at all for fear of political backlash.

When faced with the stubbornly low numbers of women councillors and council leaders, and the findings of the commission, we cannot writeoff the gender disparity simply in terms of free choice. We must accept that there is something else at play. It is not good enough to say ‘it’s too difficult to find good women to stand’, or that ‘women just don’t want to be involved with local politics’. There are clear and demonstrable structural and cultural barriers that are putting women off standing and are making their lives difficult once they are in office.

Some of these barriers, although they affect women disproportionately, are indicative of a wider problem with diversity and inclusivity, which means that local government demographics have remained remarkably homogenous – 67% male, 96% white and with an average age of 60. These barriers include inflexible meeting times which make the role challenging for younger people and those in full-time employment, as well as carers. The inability to bring councillors to task over their conduct in any meaningful way means that racial and disability discrimination go unpunished. Political deal-making happening outside the council chamber also means that decisions become less transparent and harder for those unable to attend these informal meetings to dispute.

In a time in which public trust in politics is taking a tumble, we cannot be complacent when confronted with these facts. Local government which is not reflective of its citizens loses credibility, and an unwillingness to make the necessary changes compounds the suspicions of the electorate that their politicians are in it for themselves. We must begin this journey of change in earnest, and demonstrate that local government can be, and indeed already is, a powerful positive force when it puts its mind to it.

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Midlands council saved £1.5m through combatting tenancy fraud

21/06/2018Midlands council saved £1.5m through combatting tenancy fraud

Tenancy fraud cost Solihull Council almost £1.58m last year, according to recent figures. A report presented to the council’s audit ... more >
Local government funding cuts threaten half of bus routes

21/06/2018Local government funding cuts threaten half of bus routes

Almost half of all bus routes in England are under threat due to partial or incomplete subsidies from councils, the Local Government Association (L... more >
London council demands credit card details by email

21/06/2018London council demands credit card details by email

A London council is reviewing its data protection precautions after it was revealed that residents were told to share payment card detail via email... more >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

The work of the vanguards can help overcome the challenges of integrated care

29/05/2018The work of the vanguards can help overcome the challenges of integrated care

Following the announcement of the second wave of integrated care systems (ICSs), NHS Providers, the NHS Confederation, NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) and the LGA reflect on how lessons learnt by members from across the four organisations – that have designed and worked together as part of the vanguards – will support the j... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

interviews

Data at the heart of digital transformation

03/04/2018Data at the heart of digital transformation

SPONSORED INTERVIEW Grant Caley, UK & Ireland chief technologist at NetApp, speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the benefits of movin... more >
GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

03/04/2018GDPR: The public sector scarecrow

SPONSORED INTERVIEW PSE’s Josh Mines chats to Martin de Martini, CIO of Y Soft, about what the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)... more >
Keeping London safe

05/03/2018Keeping London safe

Theo Blackwell, London’s first-ever chief digital officer (CDO), speaks to PSE’s Luana Salles about the role he plays in ensuring the... more >
BIM: Digitising the public sector

19/02/2018BIM: Digitising the public sector

PSE’s Josh Mines talks to Stephen Crompton, CTO at GroupBC, and Stuart Bell, the company’s sales and marketing director, about how Bu... more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

public sector focus

G-Cloud 10: small changes, big opportunities

12/06/2018G-Cloud 10: small changes, big opportunities

ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE Rafael Cortes, Foehn... more >
Targets and tribulations

04/06/2018Targets and tribulations

David Willett, corporate director at The Open... more >