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Women in local government

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When LGC surveyed female council chief executives in 2009, we found a broadly positive picture: most said they worked hard, enjoyed their jobs and felt well paid.

This was borne out by the data: their responses showed their salaries outstripped the sector average.

But concerns about gender discrimination remained, with one female chief telling us: “A boys’ room culture still exists and sometimes there’ll be jokes of a sexual nature and calling women tarts.”

Since then, repeated funding cuts have triggered huge changes in the local government workforce. LGC’s latest research, a more detailed analysis based on men and women working at different levels of local government, reveals the big picture on gender issues.


Men and women had hugely different perceptions about pay, our survey found. Asked whether there was equal pay in senior management, just 56% of women said there was, compared with 81% of men.

Male respondents were more likely to perceive a pay gap at operational level, with 71% saying pay at this level was equal compared with 63% of women.

The data suggests it is on the frontline rather than senior management that the pay gap is most acute. Of the chiefs who told us their exact salary, the average for women was £128,682, notably higher than the male average of £111,640.

But this picture is reversed at levels below senior management, with LGA figures for the overall workforce in 2012-13 showing a 1.7% gender pay gap.

This is in part because women are much more likely to work part-time in lowerpaid jobs in local government.

LGA data for 2012-13 shows 264,820 women work part-time earning less than £15,000 per year, compared with just 21,820 men.

LGC’s research also found that pay satisfaction is much more closely linked to status than to gender.

Despite recession-driven pay restraint, chief executives are happier than before about their earnings: the proportion of female chiefs who are content with their salaries has risen from 70% in 2009 to 85%.

For male chief executives the figure is 83%.

Yet this is in contrast to the workforce as a whole, where 62% of women and 59% of men said they were happy with their earnings.

Opportunity and discrimination

Women are playing a prominent role at the top of local government: the LGA’s 2011-12 local government workforce survey found that of the top 5% of earners, 43% were female.

Yet when it comes to elected members, the representation of women dwindles.

Figures from the Centre for Women & Democracy show just 13% of council leaders are female. As Centre for Women & Democracy director Nan Sloane points out overleaf, this is in part because the portfolios that often propel their holders to leadership - finance and regeneration - do not tend to be held by women.

Despite approaching parity at senior management level, women are considerably more sceptical than men about equal opportunities.

Eighty-four per cent of men said they believed there was equal access to promotion and training in local government for men and women, but just 55% of women thought this was the case.

Asked whether gender discrimination took place in local government, 30% of men and 50% of women said it did.

However, the percentages of both men and women who said they had actually experienced gender discrimination at local authorities was higher: 38% of men and 56% of women said they had.

One explanation for this discrepancy could be that many respondents said they encountered sexism in the past and did not think the same would take place today.

Whatever the reason, the figure compares unfavourably with a similar finding about health sector employees.

LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal found, in a survey of more than 1,000 people, that 37% of women and 20% of men said they had experienced sexual discrimination during their career in healthcare.

Future career plans

Our survey identified two trends that could lead to a significant increase in the number of women in senior management posts.

First, far more men than women are approaching retirement: 11% of the men who responded to the survey said they would be retired in two years’ time, compared with just 4% of the women.

Second, more than twice as many women than men said they anticipated a promotion - 12% of women compared with 5% of men.

Women also emerged as being ambitious for the future. Asked what was important to them in a new role, women were more interested than men in taking on challenging roles, and more focused on the level of control and influence the new role would bring.

Seventy-three per cent of women said they wanted a challenging role compared with 61% of men, and 54% believed their span of influence was important, compared with 45% of their male counterparts.

However, these up-and-coming women also want local government to work for them - 43% said the opportunity for flexible working was important to them and 78% said they wanted to work in a convenient location, figures considerably higher than those for male respondents.

So, if the sector is to gain from these ascendant women, it will have to adapt to their demands.

Survey methodology

  • 368 people responded to LGC’s gender in local government survey.
  • Of these, 153 (42%) were male and 215 (58%) were female.
  • 64% of respondents were senior managers, directors, deputy chief executives or chief executives. The rest were officers.
  • Figures have been rounded.
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