To bring about change in public, private and political institutions in the city, to ensure gender balanced leadership. To ensure that the city’s key organisations hear, understand and respond to the needs of all women.
Finn Mackay writes in The Guardian, ‘Westminster politics, for example, is nearly 80% male, and overwhelming white; we are still waiting for a government that looks like the people it dares to govern.’
It is less than a century since women in the UK were given any right to vote or to stand for political office, to take up civil professions or to take up public office. While the laws that prevented women from being visible and active in public life have been dismantled, the legacy of a by-gone age still influences today’s models of ‘leadership’, policy-making and the setting of priority policy areas. These hierarchical models are known to cause poor performance when it comes to capturing (or even recognising) the knowledge and experience of people who are traditionally excluded from the corridors of power.
Women in Bristol make up 51% of the population. However, in terms of political leadership, prior to the 2016 elections only 36% of councillors were women. Despite 100% of Bristol MPs being women, during the 2016 mayoral elections, only two out of 13 (15%) candidates were women, against a national average of 25% female elected mayors. It was also evident that the city saw the mayoral role as a male one with headlines such as, ‘the right man for the job’ or ‘Leadership is about … having the balls to do it.’ Following a strong 50:50 Campaign in Bristol, the 2016 elections saw progress with 30 women elected out of 70 councillors, taking women’s representation up to 43%, with some political parties achieving 50% or more.
Table One: Results of 2016 Local Elections disaggregated by gender
The evidence suggests that when women stand as candidates they are elected at nearly the same rate as men – 44.9% for women and 47.5% for men. Yet there is not one single reason that prevents women entering political life but often a variety of different reasons. Some of these include a lack of diverse role models, lack of confidence, lack of mentoring and support, perceived discrimination, perceived lack of experience, or apprehension about opening yourself up to public and media scrutiny.
At a recent BWV event to encourage more women into politics, the invisibility of diverse role models and lack of confidence were the main two reasons cited as barriers for women to enter political life.
Some of these can be tackled through education, positive local media stories and strong women politicians as role models. It is also about changing attitudes so that our community values the voices of a diverse and representative council.
An ongoing challenge is to not only increase the proportion of women on the council but to increase the proportion of Black, Minority and Ethnic women in politics. A more diverse council would make better decisions and solve problems more effectively because it would be able to draw upon a wider range of experiences and insights.
Representation of Public and Private Boards
Women continue to be under-represented in both public and private boards. Only two out of 13 board members of the Local Enterprise Partnership (West of England) are women, and one in three voting members of NHS boards are women. Some 13 out of 15 Public Sector Boards in Bristol are led by men. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has just released its new report on board appointment practices in the UK’s largest 350 listed firms. More than 60% of these firms have not met a voluntary target of 25% female board members.
According to a new global index from Catalyst, (the non-profit organisation for women in business), introducing quotas to boost the number of women in corporate boardrooms is working. Further, Catalyst cited research looking at corporate performance and women’s representation which showed that a gender diverse board leads to better fiscal performance. Diverse boards have also been shown to strengthen a company’s talent pipeline and increase innovation, leading to a stronger group performance.
Our Calls to Action
|Who?||Call to Action|
|UK government, Bristol City Council, West of England Local Enterprise Partnership||To implement United Nations Development Goal 5.5 to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life|
|UK political parties, local political parties||To put forward a minimum of 50% women candidates in council elections especially in winnable seats|
|All major companies in Bristol||To ensure a minimum of 50% board members are women|
|Public agencies in Bristol
|To allocate points in procurement processes to those companies with 50% or more women on boards of companies tendering for contracts|
|Bristol City Council||To ensure a culture whereby female councilors are able to fulfil their obligations and their full potential|
|All employers in Bristol||To develop strategies to promote and retain women at senior level|
 Women in local Politics in Europe Figures from 34 European countries of CEMR membership (DRAFT) CEMR 2008