Too few women on WA councils

Nick Sas

The reach of WA’s so-called “corporate boys’ club” extends into local government, with a Committee for Perth report showing women are severely under-represented across WA councils.

Just two weeks after the Committee for Perth found a corporate boys’ club was stopping Perth women from getting ahead at work, its latest report shows that between 1999 and 2013, an average of only 31.6 per cent of local councillors were women.

There had been a slight increase over the past 15 years, from 29.2 per cent in 1999 to 32.5 per cent last year, but Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker said there was no reason why women should not make up half of council positions.

Ms Fulker said the report’s result was not a surprise.

“There are obviously still barriers,” she said. “And I think it was important now to understand why this is still happening and try to make some changes.”

Ms Fulker suggested the lack of child care was an issue and the adversarial nature of politics — with women perhaps lacking the self-esteem to “put themselves out there” — was another issue.

This was backed up by the report’s author, University of WA Urban and Regional Planning Associate Professor Paul Maginn, who suggested a mix of minor and major changes to how councils operated to help encourage more women to pursue elected office in local government.

He said more flexible and supportive working conditions, allowances for childcare fees and “more creative thought” in terms of where, when and how council meetings were held were some possible changes.

The report found of the 29 local councils in the Perth metropolitan region, only nine had women in more than 40 per cent of council positions over the 15-year period.

These included Cambridge — where women made up the majority (52.6 per cent) of elected members — with the other eight being Bassendean, Belmont, Claremont, Cockburn, Gosnells, Kalamunda, Perth and Vincent.

The councils with the lowest representation of women were the cities of Fremantle (17.5 per cent), Swan (20.7 per cent), Stirling (23.6 per cent) and Canning (25.8 per cent).

The report also found that women were actually “over-represented” in their election to council positions, given the low number of female candidates.