Modern Civic Leadership Needs Gender Equity

Woman with political rosette, detail (small) 80x81.jpg Cities like Liverpool still seem to have a problem about ‘strong women’. On-going changes of civic leadership in the city offer an opportunity for the chaps to disprove suspicions that they continue to hold this antiquated attitude across all spheres of influence. Institutional sexism has no place in an adult and forward-looking city.
Recent turbulence in Liverpool’s civic leadership has set me thinking about what comes next. Do we want more of the same, or do we want something fresher and more responsive than the present arrangements?
This is a city with a tradition of behind-the-scenes chaps’ groups who met for luncheon and called themselves ‘The Big Four’ (or is it Super Six, or First Eleven, or Secret Seventeen?), and which has no, repeat no, really serious power-brokers outside Westminster who sometimes wear skirts. (There are some fine women out there doing excellent jobs, but they ain’t at the top of local government in Liverpool.)
Does Liverpool have a problem about women?
I’m certainly not of the view that women are necessarily ‘better’ than men in any respect, or that change necessarily means feminisation. But I do think, on the basis of many years’ experience, that this is a city which still has problems with welcoming the input of strong women. Maybe that’s not just a characteristic of Liverpool, but we are quite evidently trailing in the so-called Equal Opportunities stakes, as the Mersey Partnership Gender Agenda illustrates all too painfully.
Equality of opportunity is also best use of human resource
This isn’t just (though it is anyway) a matter of equity. This is a matter of the optimum use of resource, including talent, knowledge and understanding. In cities like Liverpool (I assume there are others too) problems seem to be ‘solved’ by top-down directives. Maybe that was necessary at one stage; but it won’t take us up to the next level – at least, not in my opinion a next level which in the long-run will do us any good.
Using human resources well means accommodating different styles and different perspectives. Even putting aside the compelling moral case, the fundamental reason that equal opportunities is critical is that any other way wastes potential to serve the best interests of everyone. (Has someone forgotten that over half the population is female?)
Sometimes men of influence are afraid of women who are strong
Men and women across the globe are in the end much the same; the variations within each gender are usually greater than the differences between the genders when it comes to work, decisions, personal choices and so forth. We (nearly) all want what’s best, we (nearly) all want decent, effective decision-making. So theoretically it doesn’t matter whether our leaders are men or women, as long as they’re able and of good faith.
But in one respect Liverpool at least hasn’t got there yet. The chaps who decide things – not all of them, but some – are not yet prepared to change their perceptions, to see individuals for what they can bring to the party, rather than what they wear (to be facetious, a skirt or a tie?). Whilst the city continues to be run by an unspoken convention about what sort of person is ‘appropriate’ for serious influence, leadership and decision-making – and challenge as you may, demonstrating this convention isn’t the case is very difficult – we are desperately missing a trick.
Influence and leadership across the board
Covert sexism in Liverpool applies whether we’re looking at the Town Hall, the local economy or community development and involvement. There is an inflexibility somewhere in ‘the system’ which results I suspect from insecurity and / or protectionism masquerading as traditional, definitive leadership. And this overall leadership, as we have seen, is hugely male-dominated.
Current civic changes offer a chance for those decision-makers who really do care about the best interests of us all now to deliver something more inclusive and thereby also more effective for the whole community.
We shall be a Grown Up City when, and only when, the Chaps are no longer afraid of Strong Women.

Posted on February 26, 2006, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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