“Too many areas of policy covered by local government are male dominated – infrastructure, highways, planning… the most important thing is to put women in positions of responsibility in those areas, leading by example, reflecting the needs of their communities, and making a difference.”
These striking words from Councillor Judith Blake summarise what we know to be true – the majority of senior positions in a number of key industries are still held by men. Instinctively we know that this isn’t right – but how do we solve this problem?
To mark International Women’s Day, at NLGN we made a series of three films that look at the role of women in local government. One of the reflections that came out of this was that while local government is no longer the old boys club that it once was, there is still a lot to do to ensure that women reach the senior roles at the same rate as men.
The support of both formal and informal mentoring is crucial to the advancement and success of women. The films we made highlighted the importance of finding a network that provide support and encouragement, but also a group of people that you can learn from.
The other key aspect that needs to be addressed, is that driving change and reaching gender equality is not the responsibility of women alone. With men in such a high number of leadership positions, particularly in planning and infrastructure, there is a responsibility on them to ensure that workplaces are open and non-hierarchical, that women are not disadvantaged for taking leave for caring responsibilities, and that the value of a diverse range of voices is valued.
There are many ways in which it is clear that that the majority of people designing cities and places have been men – women are far more likely to be pushing wheelchairs or pushchairs, and yet numerous pavements are cracked and inaccessible. Women with young children are more likely to need public toilets and now the vast majority have been closed, and well-lit and safe areas are crucial for women’s safety, but many areas are without streetlights and are no go areas in the evenings.
Without more women at senior levels of planning, these problems will continue. To make our places equitable for everyone, those responsible for them need to be representative of those using them. This puts considerable responsibility on councils to ensure that there are enough women in senior leadership positions.
These films show that there are a number of inspirational women in senior leadership positions – but we need many more of them to create the places that we need.