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More women are reaching top council posts but there are still many gender-related problems to overcome, according t...
More women are reaching top council posts but there are still many gender-related problems to overcome, according to research.

The study by Pam Fox and Mike Broussine of the Bristol Business School is based on focus groups with male and female chief executives and senior managers. It finds women are still 'judged in ways that men are not, and have to consider issues that men do not'. For example they feel they are under more scrutiny than men, and women colleagues in particular expect them to be 'not just good but perfect'.

Research author Pam Fox said some participants felt they were in a no-win situation. She said it is still the case, in some places, damning remarks about a woman's appearance are made.

'Women report they are sometimes seen as lacking in charisma and gravitas - for example, if they are small and do not have a loud voice,' she said. One participant in the report said: 'You are seen either as an ogre or a tart.'

The issues are most acute where women have few senior female colleagues and a female chief executive can feel isolated: 'The lot of the pioneer woman chief executive was seen as a very uncomfortable one.'

Women also feel the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives could be more proactive about women's needs, and the male-dominated Local Government Association is not a good role model.

Ms Fox said: 'The issues are less about women themselves than about the organisations. The intention of our study is to identify how authorities can get better, but you only affect practice if you challenge the status quo so inevitably there's going to be an element of discomfort.'

Babergh DC chief executive Pat Barnes said councils were much happier about appointing women as senior managers than five years ago. She added: 'There are issues and I wouldn't want them to be brushed under the carpet . . . but gender should not be used to explain everything.'

Solace honorary secretary Clive Grace said the acid test was whether local government recognised the need for progress. 'It's very important to listen very hard to the experiences of women chief executives and senior managers as the are uniquely placed to give a comment on these issues,' he added.

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