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#BreakTheBias on International Women’s Day 2022

Published: Tuesday, 8 March, 2022

Me: Good morning, Kathy O’Leary speaking. How may I help you?

Caller: Ah yes, good morning. I wanted to speak to the Chief Executive.

Me: You are.

Caller: No, I mean your boss.

Me: Well I suppose I could see if Councillor Doina Cornell, the Leader of the Council is free. Would you like to speak to her instead?

Caller: What?!

It’s International Women’s Day on 8 March, and this year’s theme is #breakthebias - challenging bias, stereotyping and discrimination where we see or experience it.

Women make up 51% of the population in this country, however of around 20,000 elected councillors, 35% are female, and only 17% of the country’s 333 council leaders are women.

And while nationwide, 78% of the local government workforce is female, only 33% of local authority chief executives are women. Stroud District Council’s leader, deputy leader and chief executive are all female.

After last May’s local elections, the Fawcett Society estimated it would be 2077 before gender equality might be achieved on local councils in England.

“Historically, the way councils and many organisations do business has been designed by and for men,” said Kathy. “Women are much more likely to put themselves forward for senior roles or stand as councillors when they feel they are being listened to, that they belong and that they have a legitimate place in an organisation.

“Women need to have confidence that they have as much to offer, and they need encouragement and support to reach their potential. Both of us are lucky enough to have had brilliant support from our partners, families, friends and colleagues without which it would be impossible for us to be where we are. Both of us are passionate about encouraging other women to stand as councillors and take on leadership roles, and making more opportunities for them to progress at work, as well as tackling bias, discrimination and gender stereotyping.”

“Being a councillor or working in a senior role also needs to more accessible to women,” said Cllr Cornell. “While we have worked hard to introduce greater flexibility and family-friendly policies for our workforce to help balance work with home lives and responsibilities, national changes are needed to make roles as senior officers and councillors more accessible.

“The temporary national arrangement for committee and council meetings to be held remotely during the pandemic has ended, but if this became permanent we could make better use of the technology we have at our fingertips to enable more inclusive access.”

Kathy added that progress will have been made when the conversation above goes more like this:

Me: Good morning, Kathy O’Leary speaking. How may I help you?

Caller: Ah yes, good morning Chief Executive. I wanted to arrange a meeting with you and the Council’s Leader. When might you and she be available?    

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