6 JUNE 2017
BY GILL MORRIS, Owner and Chief Executive of Connect Communications

Every which way you look there is a shortage of women leaders in politics. Lack of diversity is not a new problem in the UK so why does it prove so hard to tackle and why are women still under-represented in Parliament and around the boardroom table?  The recent Metro Mayoral elections saw an all male and pale line up and no women being elected – only 7 candidates of the 38 that stood were female, a lowly 18.5%. That’s not to mention that over 90% of appointments to the new mayoral cabinets are likely to be men.

Surely this was a missed opportunity for all political parties to promote women into positions of real power?   The General Election campaign has seen a lot of exposure on our women leaders. While it is fabulous to see three female Party leaders battling it out in Scotland, it is sad nonetheless that women seeking election are still seen as remarkable rather than the norm.

Equal opportunity and fairness must be the bedrock of Mayoral powers. Our new Mayors must lead the way and be ambassadors for greater diversity.  So far English devolution has failed to get any female Mayors on board but I hope in the next round of Devo deals this will change. Our commentators put forward their thoughts and ideas on how to grasp the diversity challenge and make sure that our new Metro Mayors deliver for women.

Sam Smethers 
Chief Executive, Fawcett Society

"We need to change the culture and practices of local government to make a difference to the pipeline."

In the mayoral elections in May, no women were elected as the new Metro Mayors. Their Combined Authorities will be 93% male. Decisions that affect millions of women across the six city regions will be almost exclusively taken by a handful of white men.

This situation has arisen for a number of reasons. Only 33% of English local councillors are women, a figure which has barely changed in two decades, and there is a huge problem with progression as only 17% of council leaders are women. We need to change the culture and practices of local government to make a difference to the pipeline.

But that’s not enough. We need to ensure that women’s voices are heard right away in devolution – but requiring gender balance at the top table, including through legislation if needs be, and by ensuring grassroots women’s organisations are given the chance to contribute.

Donna Hall 
Chief Executive, Wigan Council

"White male Mayors need to champion equality and seek people from all under-represented groups to be role models in the new combined authorities."

Groups including, women, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender people, people of colour, disabled people and young people are under-represented in all areas of public life and civil society. It’s therefore not surprising that most of our new Metro Mayors reflect that. So what do we do?

Firstly, the white male Mayors need to champion equality and seek people from all under-represented groups to be role models in the new combined authorities. We are doing this pro-actively in Greater Manchester.

Secondly political parties need to seek out and nurture talent in under-represented groups and maintain this coaching approach over a long-time period; working closely with the community and voluntary sector. Activism is growing in cities and local neighbourhoods but we don’t capture it and grow our activist talent in a meaningful pipeline to replace the politicians of now.

Thirdly we need to develop more plural, dispersed models of leadership which support communities to lead their neighbourhoods through the social capital that has turned Wigan around through The Deal. This is the future - BELIEVE!

Tabitha Morton 
Former Liverpool City Region Mayoral candidate, Women’s Equality Party

"I stood to make those white men sit up and realise women matter."

I saw a photograph of nine white, able-bodied men signing the devolution deal for our region and that’s why I decided to stand as the Women’s Equality Party candidate for Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor.

My campaign ranged from arresting billboards highlighting the gender pay gap, to devising and delivering policies including affordable childcare for all and a strategy to end violence against women and girls. We were embraced by the public on the doorstep and in the streets. Despite this, the enthusiasm from the local press, notably the Liverpool Echo, was lukewarm, choosing instead to cover the old parties and their male candidates.

I stood to make those white men sit up and realise women matter. We are 51% of the population, and our diverse voices should be at the table, as we have so much experience and expertise to give.

It is a blot on our region that there is no strategy to end violence against women and girls – I wanted to do something about it and knew that with such an important issue it was high time to put party politics aside. We worked with the Green Party, Labour, Lib Dem and TUSC candidates, who all signed my pledge to end violence against women and girls. We all agreed that whoever was elected would honour the pledge and ensure we had a robust strategy in the Liverpool City Region. We have the first meeting to make this a reality in June.

Eve Holt 
Co-founder, DivaManc

"We must seize devolution as an opportunity to work together to intentionally ‘design diversity in’ to shifting political structures."

There is no doubt we need more diversity in our political leadership. The lack of diversity at local and national levels is well evidenced, and the impact this has on engagement, participation and decision-making is stark. The question is how we do something about it! We must seize devolution as an opportunity to work together to intentionally ‘design diversity in’ to shifting political structures. Good design means:

  • Data – use it to highlight the problem, see recent reports by IPPR, Fawcett Society and the Local Government Commission on gender equality in UK politics. And use it to show impact of different tools e.g. quotas, language, ‘blind’ recruitment  – read What Works: Gender Equality by Design.
  • Experimentation – explore what works elsewhere and encourage people to experiment, take risks and support each other. At DivaManc, the Parliament Project and HappenTogether CIC we’ve used coaching, facilitation and tech to help people explore their own inner critic and bias and to collaborate.
  • Strategy –  a collective plan is needed for whole system change.  This requires space for public, private and voluntary sector to work together with citizens, sharing what works and co-designing next steps at both micro and macro level.
  • Inclusion – recognise intersectionality and actively include full diversity of voices.  Create conditions for success, e.g ensure spaces are inclusive in design and practice and facilitate both personal and collective reflection and action.
  • Grow increase women’s participation, leadership and power from the bottom up. Recognise, amplify and applaud full spectrum of women leaders. Nurture a strong and vibrant women’s movement working in partnership with local, regional and national government. This is our key aim at DivaManc.
  • Northern spirit – celebrate and make visible our history across the North of women leaders and change-makers so we can draw upon our radical roots and northern spirit. Enable people to bring their whole-selves to the conversation.

This post was originally published on DevoConnect. Follow them on Twitter .

About Author

Gill is the Owner and Chief Executive of Connect Communications and former Chair of the APPC.