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Call for action as sexism in councils remains 'commonplace'

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Gender equality in local government is being held back by a range of outdated practices and sexism remains commonplace, a report has concluded.

The Fawcett Society’s Local Government Commission found a third of women councillors had experienced sexist comments from colleagues and three-quarters of councils had no formal maternity leave arrangements in place for elected members.

The report published today, which was the result of a year-long study in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit, also found that lack of flexible working in senior roles had contributed to only a third of chief executives being women, compared to 78% of overall council workers.

Women were also found to be outnumbered six to one in finance or economic development roles - often a route to the top jobs - and this had contributed to just 17% of council leaders being women; a proportion that has shifted only slightly in 10 years.

Chair of the commission Dame Margaret Hodge (Lab) said she was “shocked” to find “little has changed” since she was Islington LBC leader 25 years ago.

She added: “The way councils do business is still designed by, and for, men. This needs to change, and fast. Currently local government is not fit for purpose and does not work for women.”

The report made a series of recommendations including a call for the government to introduce a statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave policy for councillors and a change to legalisation to allow remote attendance at meetings through the use of technology.

The report also called for each political parties to set “ambitious” targets for increasing women’s representation at local elections, with legislation introduced if progress is not made.

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