Representation in leadership
Women in local government leadership positions have historically been underrepresented.
In 2022, following the December 2021 NSW local government elections, women accounted for 39.5 per cent of all councillors in NSW – an 8.5 per cent jump on the proportion of women elected in 2016/17 (LGNSW, 2022). This jump in representation is a positive shift in the right direction and goes some way towards creating more representative and effective councils for the diverse communities they are serving.
Former Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock has written about the importance in increasing the level of female representation in local government:
It goes without saying that organisations flourish when they have gender parity and our councils are no different. Strong, effective councils are those that reflect the diverse communities they serve and represent.
Common barriers to female participation
The first female ever elected into government in Australia was over 100 years ago. Her name was Grace Benny. She was elected in local government to Brighton City Council in South Australia. Since then, women have faced a number of barriers in entering political life. Common barriers at a local government level include:
- Awareness of local government and the role of councils and councillors
- Feeling unqualified and lacking in confidence
- Juggling carer / work commitments
- Investment of time and money
- Perceived culture of councils and councillor conduct
Research conducted in 2021 in Victoria revealed that women in local government (both candidates and elected councillors) have experienced more negative behaviour as compared to men. This is reflective of incidences of sexual harrassment by Federal and State politicians and the apparent negative attitudes towards women within politics broadly.
Growing representation in local government
The good news is that things are starting to change – even if slowly. Over the past decade there has been a steady increase in the number of female candidates standing, the number of councillors elected, as well as the number of female Mayors.
In the Victorian elections in 2020, a record number of women were elected, bringing representation to 43.8% (273 women). Local Government NSW (LGNSW) president Darriea Turley reported that following the 2021 NSW local government elections, “…27 councils actually have a female majority, nearly three times the number we saw in the last council term.” The growth in female representation within NSW local councils over the past decade is shown below.
Changes in policies
Initiatives supporting women into local government such as the Election of Women to Local Government Action Plan, established by Former Minister for Local Government Shelly Hancock in early February 2020, have also been a positive step. Other factors that may have contributed to the increasing number of women taking up local office include:
- Introduction of superannuation for mayors and councillors
- Requirements for councils to cover the reasonable cost of childcare arrangements to allow them to undertake their civic duties
- Opportunity to participate in council meetings virtually
We are yet to see programs directly addressing the issue of attitudes towards women in leadership and government.
Benefits of being a local councillor
Despite the common barriers identified above, there are many benefits for women who chose to take on the leadership journey. This includes:
- Being part of creating change
- Having a positive impact on your local community
- Achieving real results
- Learning new skills and knowledge
- Stepping stone to future political career
More resources for women in local government
For women thinking about standing in the local government election, there are resources available to help you. Check out support available on the Women for Election and Australian Women for Local Government websites well as the NSW Electoral Commission website.