Latest Public Sector News


We need more women leaders in local government

Source: PSE Aug/Sep 16

Cllr Gillian Keegan, director of Women2Win, explains why she is co-chairing a commission into women’s representation in local government and how people can get involved.

The Fawcett Society and LGiU have launched a one-year commission supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust to examine the role of women across local government and identify barriers to women’s representation. 

We are undergoing a period of great change in the way power is held, public money is spent and public services are delivered. However, we haven’t seen any change in women’s representation in local government for many years – just over 30% of councillors are women, and this has remained roughly unchanged for a decade.  

As we enter an era of devolution it is vitally important that decision-making in local government is fully representative of local communities, particularly when difficult trade-offs are required to balance budgets. Devolution can offer real opportunity for local politicians to use their insights, knowledge and relationships to solve local problems and focus on regional growth. That’s why, along with Dame Margaret Hodge MP, I’m chairing the commission, to make sure that women are at the table where critical decisions are made, not only as councillors but also as leaders in local government. 

Recent research by the Fawcett Society has found that whilst 40% of councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region are women, only 21% of leaders and directly elected mayors in the region are. Surprisingly, of the 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse, 96 (or 72%) of these are occupied by men. The deals underpinning devolution come with a commitment to regional elected mayors – but so far only four of the 16 existing directly elected mayors in England and Wales are women. 

Understanding why women are underrepresented 

We need to understand why women are underrepresented at all levels of local government in order to take steps to correct the balance. The position is similar among officers employed by local authorities – three-quarters of local government jobs are held by women, but only 24% of local authority chief executives are women. 

We are really interested to understand the barriers to increasing women’s representation. Are women less likely to come forward as candidates? Are enough women aware of the role and how they can get involved? Once they do decide to stand are they less likely to be selected by their local parties? What are the experiences of new women councillors? Who is more likely to stand again? What kind of responsibilities do women councillors take on? What puts them off or makes them give up? What are the barriers that stop women councillors rising to the top? What will it take to achieve 50:50 representation of women in local government leadership? 

The commission aims to take a granular and nuanced look at these questions and will seek to understand the representation of BAME women, women with disabilities and women with caring responsibilities rather than just women as an overall group. 

During the year we will have the opportunity to identify best practice in ensuring diversity and inclusivity at all levels. We will also identify and profile strong role models to build awareness of those women who are successful local government leaders today. 

The Local Government Commission will start by gathering the existing evidence and data, which will give a clear picture of how women are represented in positions at all levels in local government today. Following on from this we will hold evidence sessions across the country, conduct two online surveys, gather written evidence submissions and conduct qualitative interviews with women council leaders. 

We will then make recommendations on how we can advance women’s representation, engagement and leadership in local government. We would like to encourage as many people as possible to get involved and help make this a successful campaign for women in local government. If you are reading this article and wondering how to get involved, please go to: 

The commission will focus on local government in England and Wales. The terms of reference were drawn up by representatives from local government, equality campaigners, trade unions and politicians. The commission will produce a report outlining its findings by May 2017.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email



There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

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 open more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Grenfell, one year on

18/06/2018Grenfell, one year on

In the year since the Grenfell Tower disaster, the LGA has been working tir... more >
Brexit's long shadow over devolution

18/06/2018Brexit's long shadow over devolution

The EU Referendum and the stop-start Brexit negotiations have left a loomin... more >


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 ... more >

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 refl... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

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 feeling of imminent change than the article James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, has penned for us on p28. In it, he highlights... read more >