Why Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 is More Important Than Ever
Donna Hall, CBE Chair New Local Government Network and Northern Powerwomen Transformational Leader 2017, 8 March, 2019

I’m delighted that this year we have such a strong line up of brilliant women coming along to inspire everyone at our NLGN International Women’s Day 2019!

Slowly but surely we are seeing more women applying for and securing the top jobs in local government. This is so brilliant for women and for our sector. However, at the same time we are seeing an increase in high profile senior women leaving the profession. Women in local government have all seen an increase in allegations of bullying on and off-line, and this needs to be addressed seriously by our sector. In particular the ability to sanction and ultimately suspend badly behaved elected officials who are proven to have bullied, harassed and abused needs to be reconsidered.

Men still outnumber women dramatically in senior management roles in local government as well as in other public and private sectors.

In our vitally important sector we employ more women than men, which should surely be a good thing. But they are predominately in lower paid and mainly caring roles. Why are caring roles so lowly paid in comparison to other council jobs? Perhaps it’s because women historically have been the people who do these jobs. The employment market has seen them as not the main breadwinner and therefore despite the life and death decisions required, the unsocial hours, the physically tough nature of the work it attracts less salary, often a zero hours arrangement and is more insecure. All this is based on the principle that it doesn’t really matter because this is just “pin money” not the sole income relied on by an entire family.

Long standing female political council leaders are rarer than female Chief Executives. It is tough for politicians these days generally but blokes don’t get criticism for their weight, hairstyles or partners in the same way women regularly do.

In Wigan we were one of the few councils to have a negative gender pay gap – on average, women earn more than men – and we worked really hard as a team to achieve this over many years.

We also invested in a young people’s charity RECLAIM who over the last year took thirty 12 year old working class girls on a journey of self discovery. Their aim was to create thirty strong female future leaders. They did the same with a group of thirty working class boys but separately (as boys tend to be louder and take over mixed sessions). The Leigh Girls as they are now widely known marched through the streets of Leigh demanding change. They produced a radical Feministo, spoke at events and made their views known to the world. We listened hard. We made changes. Stuff we hadn’t noticed need to be changed. We didn’t think things were gendered but they implicitly were.

The Leigh boys may have been louder but they were equally thoughtful and considered. Their manifesto included their ambition to “combat toxic masculinity” yes! Brilliant! I was really surprised to see the kickback on social media. Bearing in mind it was the boys’ idea to include this the council and Reclaim staff were accused of child abuse for suggesting that any element of masculinity could be toxic.

Sexism, toxic masculinity and the constant maligning of female leaders for being different helps nobody – least of all men. If we hold back 50 percent of the population from achieving its full potential we are holding back 50 percent of our collective potential.

So as thought leaders in local government and the NHS let’s take the principles of NLGNs new Community Paradigm and explore how we can use them creatively and proactively in our organisations to unleash the massive potential of all of our amazing staff and residents.

There’s so much exceptional work happening today in NLGN member organisations and we are keen to build on this and spread across the UK the positivity that’s enshrined in the Community Paradigm.