Only a third of councillors in England are women. Our analysis reveals that this figure has scarcely changed over the last two decades. Even fewer women progress to lead their councils. Councils do not reflect the diversity of our society, and disabled and ethnic minority women experience multiple discrimination.
New survey data reveals that within this male-dominated environment, sexism is worryingly commonplace in the council chamber and local parties. Women councillors experience barriers due to unpaid caring responsibilities and a lack of flexibility in how councils do business much more than their male counterparts. They are more excluded from informal networks, and are less confident that their voices will be heard.
Women councillors are no less ambitious to progress than men – but they feel pigeonholed on the basis of their gender, and held back by the way councils operate.
The evidence reveals an outdated culture which is holding local government back. It is ripe for change.