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Women leading the way

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The corporate management team at Suffolk CC looks a little different from that of many local authorities.

The women pictured hold many of the authority’s most important posts, overseeing transport, public health, children’s services, human resources and adult and community services, alongside chief executive Deborah Cadman (third from left).

Although a council spokesman is keen to stress that there are also three unpictured men holding posts at the same level, Ms Cadman says she is proud to work for a female-dominated authority.

“Local government has in the past been seen as a male-dominated environment, and in some places it still is,” she says.

“Having a group of women is fantastic and I think we are leading the way. We’re really proud. We’re demonstrating to local government that you can have a majority of senior women and can achieve great things.”

Ms Cadman says the influx of women in senior posts came about as a coincidence rather than by design.

“The council was looking for the best people, and they happened to be female.”

However, she adds, having a female-dominated leadership has produced “a different emphasis” at the top.

“Having so many women in senior roles has meant we are looking closely at how staff do things and talking about the characteristics and skills we want the workforce to have,” she says.

“We’re recognising that we want people who are good at collaborating, negotiating and facilitating. We are finding that women tend, although not exclusively, to be far better than men at demonstrating those kinds of skills.”

Ms Cadman says she hopes the top team’s current gender balance will have a long-lasting effect on the authority’s workforce.

“As a chief executive you’re responsible for other people’s career development,” she says.

“I passionately believe it’s the responsibility of senior women in local government to offer a hand to those coming behind you. It’s really important to constantly demonstrate to young women what they can achieve in local government.”

However, she adds, women must make the case for a bigger role. “There’s a responsibility for women to start saying: ‘I’ve thought about what my development needs are and what my career path is, and this is what I want.’

“Women in general tend to be less vocal about that than men. They’ve got to stop feeling like they can’t do that.”

Suffolk CC might be leading the way on female management, but when it comes to senior elected members it is still, like many authorities, struggling to get a gender balance. Of eight cabinet members, just two are women.

Council leader Mark Bee (Con) says he recognises the issue, but that Suffolk is part of a bigger picture.

“Often when I go to meetings with other county councillors, you look around the room and there are not many women,” he says. “I don’t think you need it to be female-dominated, but it would be good if there was more of a balance.”

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