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Female Councillors Subjected to Sexist Behaviour at Work

An alarming number of female councillors have experienced sexism and sexual harassment while working in local government, according to a recent report from the Fawcett Society.

Sexism and Sexual Harassment

The study questioned over 2,300 councillors and found that almost 40% of women had experienced sexist comments from within their own party, around 33% have experienced these types of comments in council chambers and 43% believe they are held back by assumptions about what they can do just because they are women. Shockingly, around 10% have experienced sexual harassment from other councillors.

“Women councillors from all major parties are reporting sexism and sexual harassment from within their own parties and from other councillors,” commented Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive. “This problem is not confined to one party, and is commonplace across local government.”

“We are sadly used to hearing about the misogyny our politicians experience from the public via social media, but this research shows that they are also experiencing it from within their own parties, including their male council colleagues,” she added.

Key Findings

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Women were most underrepresented in the 18- 34s, where there were 3.5 times as many men as women. 35% of councillors are aged between 65 and 74 and in this age group there were two men for every woman.
  • 28% of women reported childcare as a barrier, compared with 18% of men.
  • 47% of women reported clashes with other caring commitments, almost double the proportion of men at 26%.
  • 43% of women councillors experienced assumptions about what they could do based on their gender, compared with only 11% of men.
  • But women councillors are not less ambitious, with 45% of women and 47% of men saying they want to progress to a more senior job in the council.
  • One third of women councillors said sexist comments from other councillors were sometimes or often a barrier to them fulfilling their role.
  • 47% of women said that a lack of access to informal networks was a barrier to them as councillors, compared with 36% percent of men

The findings have been released in an interim report on the Local Government Commission - a year-long study led by the Fawcett Society in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit, which is investigating ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’ The final report on the study is due this summer.

Women’s Progression in Local Government

The Commission has also recently released new data giving an insight into women’s representation in local government.

Unfortunately, progress appears to be slow, with women only accounting for 33% of elected local councillors in England, which is a rise of only 5% since 1997. In comparison, the proportion of women in Parliament has increased by more than half, from 18% to 29%. The number of women council leaders has barely changed either, up from 14% to 17% in 10 years.

“Women are not sufficiently represented in many council chambers across the country,” explained Lauren Lucas, Head of Projects, Local Government Information Unit. “Where they are, their involvement is, in many cases, discouraged. Despite decades of effort to advance women’s leadership across local government, this research shows that we have not made the progress we need.”

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For expert legal advice on sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, then contact our specialist employment lawyers today.

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