We have been working with the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) to assess whether local government is working well for women. Our year-long Commission is jointly chaired by Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Conservative councillor Cllr Gillian Keegan, Director of Women2Win. Funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Commission will adopt a strategic approach and focus on the newly created structures at a local level and how they are including or excluding women.

Local government spends £94bn each year: it plays a vital role in providing services on which we all depend and tackling the challenges we all confront, and it is changing fast. Budgets have been cut significantly since 2010, the powers councils exercise are changing, and devolution will see an increasing shift of power and decision making to the regional level. Women are more likely to rely on the services that councils provide, and make up 78 percent of the workforce, so they should be properly represented in decision-making positions. But this is not the case.

Our three reports published over the course of the year have found that women councillors are held back by structural and cultural barriers, and face sexism from fellow councillors. The culture, practices and protocols of local government create unnecessary barriers to participation for women with caring responsibilities. We have found an outdated culture which holds local government back – and which now must modernise to be fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Campaign with us to end sexism in local government

Data following the 2019 local government elections

Key findings

New data following the 2019 local government elections found that shockingly women make up just 35% of councillors across England. After 8,410 councillors were elected in the biggest local elections for four years, the women’s rights campaign charity found –

  • there was less than a single percentage-point move toward gender equality
  • women remain outnumbered three-to-one on 12% of councils
  • 96% of councils remain male-dominated.

The slow pace of change was revealed as new data obtained by Fawcett through Freedom of Information requests to councils also found that, of those who responded –

  • just 20 councils (8%) have a maternity policy in place for their senior cabinet-level councillors.
  • Only 7% of councils have a maternity policy in place that covered ordinary councillor roles.

Key Recommendations

  • The Government to require parties to collect comprehensive, accurate election candidate diversity data, to enable a better understanding of how women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and LGBT people are represented by implementing section 106 of the Equality Act.
  • Councils to provide comprehensive support for childcare and adult care costs – currently, help with costs is patchy and some councils provide no support at all.
  • Councils to use technology for councillors to attend meetings remotely.
  • Codes of conduct against sexism to be introduced, and an effective Standards Committee to enforce it. Fawcett research found a third of female councillors had experienced sexist comments from their colleagues.
  • Councils to set out reasonable adjustments policies to support disabled women and men to be councillors
  • Parties to set out targets for increasing women’s representation, and a clear action plan to achieve them – and commit to legislating for quotas if progress is not made
  • Councils to commit to gender balanced leadership in their cabinet or committee chair posts, and eradicate ‘girl jobs and boy jobs’ in those roles.
Read the press release here

The Final Report: Does Local Government Work for Women?

This report, which was published in July 2017, built on survey data published in our interim report, and brought together the voices of the hundreds of women and men, councillors and council leaders, officers, and members of the public who took part in our year-long Commission, along with new desk analysis of the structures and policies that govern town halls. 

The Commission looked at all the aspects and stages of the process, from first becoming a candidate to becoming the leader of a council. The report also makes a series of recommendations that would bring more women into local government and help them to play a full role at all levels. If implemented they will begin to make local government work for women.

Key Findings

  • Just 4% of local councils in England have a formal maternity, paternity or parental leave policy in place for councillors. Some have informal arrangements, but three quarters who responded to a Freedom of Information request said that they had nothing on offer for women councillors who get pregnant.
  • Women are outnumbered six to one in key Finance or Economic Development roles, which helps to explain why just 17% of council leaders are women – a figure that has hardly shifted for ten years.
  • Sexism is commonplace in local government with almost four in ten female councillors having experienced sexist comments from within their own party, and a third from their council colleagues.
  • Half of disabled women and many BAME women councillors face multiple discrimination
  • 80% of council seats go to incumbents at each election, making it very difficult for women and minority groups to break through. 
  • Women make up just 33% of council chief executives, the head of their non-political staff, yet 78% of council employees are women. A lack of flexibility in senior roles is partly to blame.

Key Recommendations

  • Government to introduce a statutory England-wide maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave policy for councillors, and ensure childcare and caring costs are covered
  • Legalise remote attendance at council meetings and use technology to support inclusion
  • Collect and report diversity monitoring data – enact & amend Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 to collect data on the make-up of local council candidates and councillors
  • Set targets, make progress, or legislate - Each political party must outline realistic but ambitious targets for increasing women’s representation at each year’s round of local elections, with a clear action plan for achieving those targets, and if they have not made significant progress against this plan to increase women’s representation in local government by the next general election, they must commit to early legislation to implement a time-limited requirement for at least 45 percent of local government candidates to be women.
  • Encourage more women to stand - Local Government Association’s ‘Be a councillor’ to focus on women’s representation in suffrage centenary year 2018, and parties and councils to reach out into the community
  • Codes of conduct to address sexism and discrimination, with formal standards committees to be established with a process to make complaints, and able to suspend and then deselect councillors who sexually harass
  • Councils to introduce reasonable adjustments policies, and Government to reopen the Access to Elected Office fund to support disabled women councillors, and Government to take positive steps to get more BAME women in.
  • Parties and councils to adopt a requirement for at least 50 percent of cabinet members and chairs of committees to be women
  • Councils to offer all roles, including senior roles, as flexible working and part-time by default, unless there is a clear business case otherwise.
  • Equal representation across devolution’s Combined Authorities – women should be equally represented at the top table.

Read the full final report here
Read the press release here

Interim Report

In April 2017, Fawcett published its Interim Report, which analysed survey responses from over 2,300 councillors. Key findings from the report included:

  • 38% of women councillors have experienced sexist comments within their party, and 33% from other councillors. 10% have experienced sexual harassment.
  • Progress has stalled. 33% of councillors are women, up from 28% in 1997, while 29% of MPs are women, up from 19% in 1997.
  • 28% of women and 18% of men report childcare as a barrier. 47% of women and 26% of men report other caring commitments as a barrier.

Read the full interim report here
Read the press release here
Download the infographics for this report

Women in the Northern Powerhouse

While the Government’s plans for a Northern Powerhouse to boost economic growth in the North of England surge ahead, gender equality continues to lag behind.

Despite 40% of councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region being women, the most senior roles in the new tier of government are dominated by men. Women make up just 28% of those in leadership roles in the combined authorities set to deliver a reinvigorated local democracy. 

Key findings:

  • Women make up just 21% of council leaders and directly elected mayors in the Northern Powerhouse region
  • Only 1 of the 7 chairs of the established and proposed combined authorities in the northern powerhouse region are women
  • Of 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse, 96 (or 72%) of these are occupied by men
  • The City deals underpinning devolution come with a commitment to regional directly elected mayors – but so far only 4 of the 16 existing directly elected mayors in England and Wales are women

The report also finds cause for some optimism. For instance, Manchester City Council has achieved equal representation of women and men and a number of others such as North Tyneside, Leeds City Council and Hull City Council have achieved near 50:50 representation. But these pockets of progress do not always translate into more women at the most senior levels. Overall men still heavily dominate in senior positions of power.

An increasing amount of power and decision making is concentrated in the hands of combined authorities and directly elected mayors, without concerted action devolution and the Northern Powerhouse could risk shutting women out of key decisions about regional development. We are urging national and local government and the political parties to ensure that the devolution agenda has gender equality and diversity at its heart.

For the purposes of this analysis northern powerhouse regions are identified as Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, North East Combined Authority, Tees Valley Combined Authority and the boroughs that form the Humber Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Read the Northern Powerhouse report here

Terms of Reference for the Commission

Read more

Women Councillors – First Steps on the Ladder

What do we know about why and how women stand for and win elections?

  • What are women’s experiences of being selected, standing and winning?
  • Why do women stand? Are their reasons different from men’s?
  • Are the experiences of black and minority ethnic women, LGBT women, women with caring responsibilities and other underrepresented groups different?
  • What are the barriers to equal representation at the local level and where has good practice improved diversity?
  • What will it take to achieve 50:50 representation of councillors?

Women Councillors – Retention and Progression

What are the experiences of women once they become councillors?

  • What are the experiences of new women councillors? Who is more likely to stand again and who is more likely to stand for more than one term?
  • Who gets cabinet roles and do these translate into necessary qualifications for being council leader or mayor?
  • Are the experiences of black and minority ethnic women, LGBT women, women with caring responsibilities and other underrepresented groups different?
  • What are the examples of best practice for women’s retention and progression on councils?

Council Officers – Rising to the Top

What are the experiences of women local government officers?

  • What are the barriers to women’s progression to the most senior officer roles?
  • Where is good practice ensuring women are represented at the top?
  • Do women get different senior roles to men?
  • Are the experiences of black and minority ethnic women, LGBT women, women with caring responsibilities and other underrepresented groups different?
  • How does women’s representation in political roles affect the experiences of women officers?


What are the implications of devolution and new power structure (e.g. “Metro Mayors”) for gender equality?

  • In your region what do you think the impact of devolution on gender equality will be?
  • What will devolution mean for women’s representation? How far does the current approach to devolution support women’s engagement or represent their interests, how can this be improved upon?
  • Will the impacts be different for women with caring responsibilities, disabilities, LGBT women or those from black and minority ethnic groups?

Women in Leadership

In 2013 only 12% of council leaders and 13% of directly elected mayors were women. How do we get more women into leadership roles? What are the experiences of the most senior women local politicians?

  • Why do women remain underrepresented among leaders and directly elected mayors?
  • What will it take to improve women’s representation in leadership positions in local government? Are there lessons that can be learned from elsewhere?
  • Are the experiences of black and minority ethnic women, LGBT women, women with caring responsibilities and other underrepresented groups different?
  • What are the experiences of women in the most senior roles?

Overview – Does Local Government work for women?

What has been your personal experience of local government or what is your/your organisation’s overall view on this issue?

  • What are the experiences of women within local government, as both councillors and officers?
  • How things have changed over time?
  • What will it take to improve women’s representation?
  • Are the experiences of black and minority ethnic women, LGBT women, women with caring responsibilities and other underrepresented groups different?
  • Where do you believe local government currently supports gender equality through representation, local services or spending decisions? Where is progress being inhibited?

Full list of commissioners

Read more


The commission is jointly chaired by Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Councillor Cllr Gillian Keegan, Director of Women2Win.


Angela Mason Labour Councillor Camden & former Fawcett Chair
Anne Baldwin Women’s Local Government Society
Binita Mehta Former Conservative Group Leader, Watford Borough Council
Chris Naylor London Borough of Barking And Dagenahm
Deborah Cadman Suffolk County Council
Heather Wakefield Unison
Helen Edwards Department for Communities and Local Government
Jemima Olchawski Fawcett Society
Jen Pufky LGIU
Judith Blake Leeds City Council
Lauren Lucas LGIU
Nan Sloane Center for Women and Democracy
Pam Cole Women’s Budget Group
Sam Smethers Fawcett Society
Sarah Pickup LGA
Shaminder Takhar LSBU
Simon Woolley Operation Black Vote
Halla Gunnarsdóttir Women’s Equality Party
Rita Patel Operation Black Vote
Merel Husein-Ece Liberal Democrat Party