Headlines: August 4th, 2005

Women leaders in local government are crucially important in moving councils towards gender equality. This is a key finding from a study by Bristol Business School, commissioned by The Employers’ Organisation for local government and sponsored by the Improvement and Development Agency, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers and the Society of Chief Personnel Officers.The study, which provides an insight into how councils can ensure that equality is taken seriously and that women have an equal chance of reaching the top, revealed that where there is a woman leader and/or chief executive, women managers and front line staff take heart from seeing women succeed. As more women are represented in leadership positions throughout the organisation the momentum for change builds up. Currently 12% of Chief Executives and 24% of Chief Officers are women. The number of women councillors stands at 29%.

Another leadership factor, which can positively impact on the gender balance, is a need for a clear consensus between senior managers and elected members about the importance that is attached to gender diversity and equality. The study data suggests that chief executives acting with a cohesive management team, cannot achieve the necessary culture change on their own, even though their transformational leadership capacities are a central feature of successful and lasting change. The case studies suggest that real change requires visible, personal and active commitment from the political leaders of the council working in tandem with managers.

Mike Broussine, Director of the Research Unit for Organisational Studies at Bristol Business School said: “The mere establishment of policies that encourage diversity is not enough in itself. Instead councils should aim to achieve an organisational culture in which gender and diversity is taken for granted at many levels in the organisation so that gender is not an issue”.