Local Government and Gender Equality: Still Too Much to Ask?

Assembly Room
Time Slot: 
Tuesday 27th March 13:30 - 15:00
Panel Chair: 
  • Professor Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh)
Panel Members: 
  • Ms Sue Regan (Northumbria University)
  • Dr Charlotte Snelling (Institute for Public Policy Research)
  • Mr Andrew Bazeley (Fawcett Society)

Jointly supported by PSA Specialist Groups: Women and Politics, and Local Politics

This year (2017) has seen a surge of research and policy interest in the gendered dimensions of local government in the UK. The Fawcett Society has had a year-long Commission examining how well Local Government works for women; IPPR has conducted research related to young women’s participation in politics; and academics at Durham and Northumbria Universities have published their new research on diversity in public governance, including gender.

This roundtable brings together researchers from both inside and outside academia, to present the latest research findings on gender inequality in local government. It will explore institutional barriers (both formal and informal) which are highlighted in all three reports, and provide a timely and welcome opportunity to discuss this contemporary evidence and the recommendations to tackle this continuing gender asymmetry in local government.

The Fawcett Society has been working with the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) to assess whether local government is working well for women. Their 2017 Local Government Commission has published three reports and 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. Their Final Report ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’ makes a series of recommendations that would bring more women into local government and help them to play a full role at all levels.


Also in 2017, IPPR (the progressive policy think tank) published ‘Power to the people? Tackling the gender imbalance in combined authorities and local government’ by Clare McNeil, Carys Roberts and Charlotte Snelling. They argue that political parties and institutions must seize the recent increase in voter turnout among young women to dramatically increase the numbers of women going into local politics. They also recommend a series of radical reforms to improve the pipeline of women rising to the top in local politics, and to correct the absence of women at the top of combined authorities.


And in October 2017, Sue Regan with Professors Fred Robinson (St. Chad’s College, Durham) and Keith Shaw (Northumbria), published their research findings on the representativeness, accountability and transparency of public services’ governance in the north East of England: ‘Who Runs the North East Now? Governance and Governing in an English Region’. They looked at 100 organisations, finding increased numbers of women in political office since the first report (in 2000), but that gender asymmetry continues in other areas of public service governance. 


Roundtable Biographies:

Fiona Mackay is Professor of Politics at Edinburgh University. She has published widely and has longstanding research interests in the relationship between political institutions and political actors, especially with regards to the institutional opportunities and obstacles at national, regional and local levels to the advancement of women's access to political office and the promotion of women friendly public policy.

Andrew Bazeley is Policy and Insight Manager at the Fawcett Society. He joined Fawcett in October 2016 and works to develop policy using our evidence base, with a particular focus on quantitative research. Before joining Fawcett, he worked for three years in Westminster as a policy advisor on work and pensions issues, and for four years in local government including a year spent managing a ‘big data’ team. He is passionate about women’s representation at all levels of political life, challenging the harm done by gender norms, and valuing unpaid care work.

Charlotte Snelling is Research Fellow at IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research). Charlotte is part of the Work and Welfare State team and her current work is focused on education and skills, gender representation, housing and homelessness, and social care. She also provides quantitative support to the other research teams, and is a member of the editorial team for IPPR’s journal of ideas Progressive Review. She received her PhD in Politics from the University of Edinburgh in 2016 with a thesis looking at young people’s electoral participation in the UK and the impact of educational experiences on their turnout decisions.

Sue Regan is a researcher at Northumbria University, where she is completing her PhD in local representation and gender. Sue has worked on a number of university and community-based research projects, and her research interests are focussed on gender, political representation and women’s activism. Before academia, she had a long career in local government and the voluntary sector, in both frontline and strategic roles, including Corporate Policy Lead for a local authority, with specific responsibility for equality and diversity.