Appeal to councils to end gender inequality

By Staff Writer

Local government should play a greater role in pursuing national gender equality, according to the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.

Speaking at the Australian Local Government’s Women’s Association (ALGWA) biennial national conference, Broderick called on councils to improve representation of women within the local government sector.

“The obstacles to gender equity faced by local government exist in the broader national context of gender equality,” Broderick said.

“Improved representation of women in local government will be beneficial not only to the women in your workplace and in your community, but also to the pursuit of gender equality nationally.”

Broderick said increasing the number of women in leadership positions was a key aspect of her gender equality action plan.

She said the appointment of Julia Gillard as Acting Prime Minister, Quentin Bryce as Governor General and Julie Bishop as Deputy Opposition Leader were important steps towards gender equality, but were also a “veneer for what is actually happening for women in the paid workforce”.

“When it comes to local government, 5 per cent of the chief executives or general managers are women and only one in five women employed by local government work in a professional capacity,” Broderick said.

“We know that in 2005, 17 per cent of mayors in non-metropolitan local governments were women but there aren’t any comprehensive stats on the representation of women in local government.”

Broderick also criticised the under-representation of women within the senior levels of the Australian Public Service.

Although women comprise 57 per cent of the APS, they only hold 43.5 per cent of executive level positions and 36.1 per cent of senior executive service positions.

However, she pointed to the corporate sector as the worst offender.

“In the corporate sphere the 2008 Census of Women in Leadership told us that women chair only 2 per cent of ASX200 companies and hold only 8.3 per cent of board directorships. 2 per cent of ASX200 companies are led by women chief executive officers and women hold only 10.7 per cent of executive management positions,” Broderick said.

“I must say that things are currently so gloomy in corporate Australia that I don’t know that local government can take much comfort in having better representation of women that the ASX200 companies.”

Broderick highlighted the reasons for unequal representation in local government and positions of leadership, including: the challenge of balancing paid work and public life with family and caring responsibilities; failure to implement family friendly policies and flexible work practices; the lack of a statutory provision for paid parental leave; systemic discrimination and the persistent ‘boy’s club’ culture; and sexual harassment.

She said such problems should be resolved on both a local and national level, as identified in ALGWA’s Review of the National Framework.

“Support for increasing women’s representation in senior positions – and seriously grapping with the various barriers that remain – needs to be driven from the top,” Broderick said.

“Research has shown that, if we want to increase the representation of women in leadership positions, it is absolutely imperative that senior executives are explicitly and formally supportive of achieving gender equality.”

Broderick said she was excited by commitment already shown within local government by ALGWA and Local Government Managers Australia.

“Local Government Managers Australia has designated 2010 to be the Year of Women in Government,” she said.

“I hope this translates into real change for women in local government and soon.”

Related Story: The gender agenda

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