Local government needs more women

With Mayor Jenny Dowell at the helm of the Lismore Council, it might be easy to assume that women play an equal role to men in running local government. However, statistics show that across Australia only 30% of councillors are women.

With only 20% of council senior management roles and 7% of council chief executive officer roles being filled by women, this lack of participation by women in local government leadership positions has become the focus of a new Federal Government project to improve the status quo.

The '50:50 Vision: Councils for Gender Equity' program was announced at a recent conference of the Local Government and Planning Ministers' Council in Darwin. Cr Dowell, who attended the event along with other regional council representatives, said that over the next three years, allocated funding of $250,000 would allow the Australian Local Government Women's Association (ALGWA) to address the barriers that are preventing more women from becoming involved in the local government sector.

“We won't get more women elected unless more women believe they are capable and put their hands up for election,” Cr Dowell said. “Many women downplay their own skills or think they don't know enough about local government,” she said. “People think it's a blokey thing or that it's about rates, roads and rubbish - but there is more to council than that. It's actually a very diverse occupation.”

Cr Dowell believes that the low level of remuneration given to elected councillors in NSW has been a barrier to women entering local government.

“In NSW, elected councillors receive $14,000 per year. Unless you are self-employed or have a partner who can support you, there is little incentive to run,” she said. “In Queensland, most people in local government get a living wage of about $50,000 per year.”

Cr Dowell also said that more councils need to be family friendly.

“If you have family commitments, you can't do everything,” she said. “Lismore Council has a child care policy and we can have childcare made available. An important part of it is having meetings in hours where someone can hold down a job. In Lismore, we hold meetings at 6pm. Most rural councils meet in the daytime.”

Part of the new gender equity program aims to establish an awards program to recognise excellence in local government.

“We need more women town planners and water engineers,” Cr Dowell said. “We also need more women in the senior level of the local government workforce.”

Cr Dowell said that the University of Technology in Sydney was providing leadership by establishing a new course to highlight and promote careers in local government.

“We need to promote messages of positivity. That being an elected councillor is a good career choice for employment.”

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