A World Mayor Prize for women mayors only? Bring it on!

Chris Game

Any teaching academic will recognise it – the feeling of relief when your lecture-ending “Any questions?” produces one that could have been quite tricky, but which luck has decreed you’ve had a chance to consider.  My most recent example came following a lecture on devolution to international students – from, interestingly, a young Japanese woman.  What did I think of the City Mayors Foundation (CMF), the internet-based urban affairs think tank, restricting its biennial World Mayor Prize in 2018 to women mayors only?  International Women’s Day seemed an appropriate moment to reflect on my answer.

I should explain that the CMF is nowadays but one of a plethora of what I label BMT organisations. Not Business Management Training, although that may sometimes be a sub-plot, but simply Bringing-Mayors-Together.  Over the past two decades, as ever more countries in both Western and post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe turned to a model of governance once associated mainly with the US, Latin America, France and Southern Europe, these BMT organisations have similarly mushroomed.

There are now mayoral world conferences, covenants, summits, forums and most notably (in my view, anyway) the Global Parliament of Mayors, founded by the distinguished and sadly missed Dr Benjamin Barber, author of If Mayors Ruled the World, and due to meet, if Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees can pin down the funding, in his city this October.

I should also mention probably the newest BMT event – “the first ever international metro mayors summit” held last December at London’s tallest building, The Shard, and part-organised by the independent think tank, Centre for Cities. Its timing suggested that, international aspirations notwithstanding, it was custom-designed for our new Combined Authority mayors – elected only last May, and so possibly uncertain which, if any, of the other get-togethers they qualified for.  And its advance publicity reinforced that impression – featuring a block set of their six headshots.

CA Mayors

I’ve no idea if this latter helped boost attendance, but I do know, because I regularly use a near-identical powerpoint slide, the immediate impression it inevitably conveys: that, if you don’t happen to be a white, 50s-ish, jacket-and-tie-wearing male, then maybe these new, exciting-sounding governmental roles aren’t for you.

Which is unfortunate, and obviously not their fault. Virtually no one predicted the six elections would split 4-2 to the Conservatives.  If they hadn’t, one of the six, or nearly 17%, would almost certainly have been female, which isn’t that shy of the 23.5% for our existing mayors – four out of a grand total of 17.

For us, clearly, mayoral government, launched nearly 20 years ago in the still sunlit days of New Labour, has been the slowest of burners, and, as we turn to the international stage, it’s worth adding some statistical context. Such is the humungous scale of what we still for tradition’s sake call our ‘local’ government that, had the new Government done what some mayorists proposed and required, rather than invited, all English districts/municipalities with populations over, say, 50,000 to switch from their longstanding committee systems to elected mayoral government, we’d still have only about 320 mayors – compared to France’s 36,000, Germany’s 11,000, Italy’s 8,000, Hungary’s 3,000, and so on. True, many of these are indirectly elected or even appointed, but all will be prominent figures and have significant powers in their respective communities, and all presumably are available for Mayoral Get-Togethers – should that happen to be their socialisation mode of choice.

Which leads easily, in my mind anyway, back to the question of what fraction of these thousands are women, and back therefore to the City Mayors Foundation. It’s not primarily a research body and doesn’t do precise number counts, but its estimate is that only 20% of the world’s mayors are women. And its detailed data about individual countries’ local governments enable at least some examination of the proposition that, even where significant numbers of women are elected as mayors, it’s only rarely in their countries’ biggest cities. It is a rough examination – Birmingham, for a start, being confused with the West Midlands – but overall the CMF’s most recent figures are hard to argue with: one woman mayor in the world’s 50 largest cities, five in the 100 largest, and 26 (8.7%) in the 300 largest, which equates to populations of over 500,000.

Women mayors table

My table, based on some of the CMF’s studies of the largest cities in individual countries – most, obviously, way under 500,000 – amplifies these figures in the right-hand columns, but also highlights some of the exceptions. And not least, as my Japanese questioner was well aware, the remarkable achievement of Yuriko Koike’s 2016 election as Governor (the equivalent of Mayor) of Tokyo, recorded at the time in these columns.

So what I was being asked was: if, even in a country with Japan’s still conservative gender role attitudes, a woman can be elected to the top local government post, isn’t a World Mayor Prize open to only a fifth of the world’s mayors, both unnecessary and somewhat patronising?  I admit that, when I first read about it, I myself was rather surprised. I also recalled a Scottish National Gallery exhibition of Modern Scottish Women Painters and Sculptors a couple of years ago that I’d rather enjoyed, but that attracted rather more than just artistically critical attention.  I needed the security of some more directly relevant data.

If these things worked perfectly, the CMF’s estimate of 20% women mayors would mean than the eight rounds of World Mayor Prizes to date – each awarding a main prize and two runners-up Commendations – would have produced two women prize winners and perhaps three commendations. Rather remarkably, they have. The 2005 Award went to Athens Mayor, Dora Bakoyannis – helped by the successful staging of the 2004 Olympics, but also for her fight against the terrorist organisations that in 1989 had assassinated her parliamentarian husband. Winner in 2008 was Helen Zille, Cape Town Mayor, leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance, and within a year Premier of Western Cape Province.

That’s the good news, though. The less good is that those two winners plus one runner-up came in the first four rounds, with women taking just two commendations in the four rounds since 2008. If the organisers were getting concerned, they had two options. Fiddle the next contest: possible, in a year-long election conducted entirely through a CMF dedicated website, with readers doing all the nominating and voting, but the organisers all the short-listing and counting. Or, how much nicer, fix the outcome.

This wasn’t quite how I responded to my Japanese questioner. I did, though, indicate that, for essentially the same reasons as I have long supported electoral gender quotas to increase women’s representation in national parliaments, the idea at this time of restricting for one year a World Mayor Prize to women mayors seemed acceptable: regrettable that it was felt necessary, but acceptable.

My only personal condition would be that the CMF urgently consider at least side-lining, this time round, the Prize awarded to the winner – about the most masculin sculpture imaginable: an unambiguously male figure being inspired or overwhelmed by three massive cubes, squares of squares, clearly referencing the male symbol in any genogram or family tree. It makes me wince.

World Mayor Prize sculpture

chris gameChris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

5 reasons why we need a new female leadership paradigm for the public sector

Catherine Mangan

As it’s International Women’s Day, I’m reflecting on the fabulous women I have the privilege to work with as part of the national leadership programmes we convene. One recurring question I’m asked by women (and one that I often ask myself) is whether they ‘fit’ the prevailing paradigm of a leader in the public sector. They have often been told (typically by male colleagues) that they need to act more like a leader – be more assertive, more confident, and speak up more in meetings – in other words, told to act more like current male role models.

This seems to me an outdated view of leadership, which is no longer fit for the complex world of public service. And on International Women’s Day I’m feeling empowered and provocative and (putting aside for the moment the debate about whether male and female styles of leadership map onto being men and women) I’m going to suggest that we need a new, more female paradigm of leadership for public services.

There are (at least) 5 reasons why:

  1. Female leaders, in my experience, not only talk to their staff, and residents, but they actively listen to them. They gather ideas and opinions from others, are genuinely interested in what different people have to say, and create a better solution from working with others. They are also prepared to change their minds. This is not a weakness, but a strength.
  2. They say ‘Come with me’ rather than ‘Do what I tell you’. They take time to explain to people why changes are necessary and offer encouragement and sense making. This is not a lack of direction, but an approach which recognises that change is difficult for people.
  3. They don’t view their role as a competition with other leaders. Rather, they have a level of humility that helps them to understand that it’s not about who can take the credit for the new initiative, it’s about whether it makes life better for their residents. This is not a sign of selling out, or not protecting the interests of your organisation. It’s effective systems leadership.
  4. They don’t think that they know the answer to everything. They recognise the complexity of the world in which they are working and understand that they can’t do everything on their own and need to collaborate with others rather than shying away from revealing a lack of knowledge. Asking others to help come up with potential solutions is the only way to tackle the wicked issues public services deal with.
  5. They have self-doubt about their abilities. This means they ask for feedback, they check out the impact of their approach, and are reflective practitioners who learn from their own practice.

So I say to all those women who think they don’t fit the mould of a leader – don’t try and shape yourself to fit an outdated mould – let’s re-shape the leadership paradigm so it looks a lot more like us.

mangan-catherineCatherine Mangan is Director of INLOGOV, co-convenes the Win Win network at the University of Birmingham, and facilitates national leadership programmes including Total Leadership, Aspiring Directors of Public Health and the National Graduate Development Programme

The obstacle course of women’s representation in national and local government.

Chris Game

With last month’s Conservative by-election win, the Cumbria constituency of Copeland secured its place in parliamentary history. But exactly what place?

Throughout the campaign we were regularly reminded how Copeland (quite likely) or Stoke-on-Trent Central (conceivably) could produce the first government party by-election gain since 1982, and, without a defecting incumbent or the poll-topping candidate being disqualified, since 1960. And serious nerds knew it would be the first (pay attention here!) to overturn a main opposition party majority of more than 3%, without a defection, disqualification or significant change in the contesting parties, since 1878.

Copeland indeed proved to be the history maker, and yet … every one of these records (believe me, there were others) could in theory be overturned. For Copeland’s irremovable place in parliamentary history – and certainly to justify its heading a commemoration of March 8th as International Women’s Day – we should look first not to its voters, but to its MPs.

The by-election was instigated by Labour’s Jamie Reed announcing his intention to swap his MP’s job for one with Sellafield, the local nuclear decommissioning authority. In January, when he formally ceased being an MP, for the first time, sitting male MPs (454) were outnumbered by the TOTAL number of women MPs EVER (455) – that is, in all the 99 years since women first got the vote.

Feminist history had been made, but, slightly unsatisfactorily, by the action of a male. However, on March 1st Copeland’s victorious Conservative MP, Trudy Harrison, was sworn in as the 196th female MP in this parliament and the 456th ever.

Recalling that it was the Commons of just 20 years ago that Tessa Jowell famously reckoned contained more Johns and Jonathans than its 60 women MPs, it obviously does constitute progress. Even if she had to slip in the odd Jack or Jimmy, her point was made: the fewer than 1 in 10 women was a national embarrassment.

But the 30% that today’s 196 women represent, and the resulting 47th position in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Women in Parliaments listing, will strike many, as it did the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, as little less embarrassing, and “a serious democratic deficit” (para 7).

A description it would presumably apply to English local government too, since the numbers now are virtually the same. When Jowell did her John count, women members of England’s principal councils totalled over a quarter. Since when, while the proportion of women MPs was tripling, that of women councillors increased at the gastropodal rate of 1% every 3 years, to (based on the most recent English national councillors’ survey) an overall 32%.

In the other UK nations, women’s representation in local government is significantly lower than in England (p.7) – Scotland 24% of councillors, Wales 26%, Northern Ireland 25% – but their representation in their respective devolved bodies is in each case relatively higher – Scotland 35%, Wales 42%, and Northern Ireland, following last week’s elections to the new, smaller Assembly, 30%.

Which brings us to the next big English local elections – those in May for the elected mayors of six recently created Combined Authorities (CAs). What kind of visibility will women have in the governance of these new bodies? To which the regrettable answer at present appears to be: precious little. Otherwise there’d be no need for ‘The People’s Powerhouse’ (provisionally May 9th at Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat football ground) – the retort of some enterprising, and outraged, women to last month’s glitzy but shamefully mishandled Second UK Northern Powerhouse (NP) International Conference.

The NP, of course, is the large-scale devolution vehicle devised by former Chancellor George Osborne, with the Greater Manchester CA as its major driver. Its consciously macho name is enough to goad some, and the conference advertising did the rest, oozing clichés about delegates’ £450 + VAT opportunity to “network with the key players, potential business partners and stakeholders in the Northern Powerhouse economy”. For unfortunately it seemed that all the really KPs, PBPs and Ss – and certainly all 15 originally advertised main speakers – were male.

It almost beggars belief, and yet the organisers’ initial response to the women’s protest was reportedly one of ‘defiance’. And it’s not as if the NP hadn’t been warned – back in 2014 with a widely mocked picture of a dozen “pale, male” and rather self-satisfied council leaders signing the first Greater Manchester devo deal. And again more recently, in the Fawcett Society’s actual “analysis of women’s representation” in the Northern Powerhouse.

Defining the NP’s ‘senior leadership roles’ as council leaders/mayors, deputy leaders, CA chairs, and chief executives, the Society’s researchers found that only 28% of these 134 posts across the NP’s seven CAs were occupied by women, including just one of the CA chairs – with even that 28% owing much to non-politicians: the 40% of women CEs.

Here in the West Midlands the 7-borough WMCA figures are even more unbalanced. 7 constituent authority leaders and 5 non-constituent authority leaders – all male; (currently) 11 CEs – 10 male; 3 LEP chairs – all male.

And, like most CAs, the signs are that we’re heading for a male mayor. Of the 33 currently known mayoral candidates, 27 are male (82%), including 12 or the 14 Conservative and Labour candidates – the two latter exceptions, both Labour, being Lesley Mansell in the West of England, and, perhaps the most likely ‘First Woman Metro Mayor’, Sue Jeffrey in Tees Valley.

I feel the final words on this International Women’s Day, that at least in its present form originated with the UN, should go to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, mentioned briefly above. Clearly unconvinced by the various parties’ earnest but unsubstantiated commitments to improve their selection performance, the Committee calls on the Government to recognise its role: to set a “target of 45 per cent for representation of women in Parliament and local government by 2030 in response to the UN indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 5.5; [and] set out how it plans to achieve this target, working with political parties.” Now if only the head of that Government were a woman …


Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.


International Women’s Day and Britain’s gender gap of shame

Sunday sees the 107th celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD), and for the 102nd year on March 8. It’s a longer history than is often supposed and, reflected in its still occasionally used Leninist title – International Working Women’s Day – a more socialist one. There were conspicuous exceptions, but the West as a whole didn’t really latch on to it until, following International Women’s Year in 1975, the UN proclaimed March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace and started increasingly to badge and orchestrate it.

That’s fine for those countries where it’s a public holiday, and for those who don’t celebrate Mother’s Day until early May. We, though, link that American creation to Mothering Sunday and the traditional Christian practice of visiting one’s mother church on the fourth Sunday in Lent (March 15 this year). There’s the risk, therefore, particularly when you throw in Valentine’s Day, of IWD morphing into another of those fluffy Spring days when women get a bit of a day off, like domestic servants of yore, and maybe a meal out.

With this in mind, I thought I’d do a quick check on who was doing what in furtherance of the cause. First – partly because they’re doing it literally as I’m typing (Thursday 5th a.m.) – MPs (well, some of them) are debating IWD-related matters in the Commons Chamber, thanks to an initiative from the Backbench Business Committee. Less fleetingly, the Commons Library has produced one of its invariably informative Briefing Notes on IWD itself and women’s equality generally, with some excellent data and references, including some examined later in this blog.

I then googled ‘IWD local government’ and immediately discovered that the first week in March was ‘Women in Local Councils Week’ – which sounded really admirable, until I realised it was in Northern Ireland; oh yes, and in 2012. Not this year apparently, and nothing either on the LGA website. So it was up to individual councils, of which the most prominent (if you live in Birmingham, you’d almost guess this) was Manchester.

You have to admire them: first Combined Authority, by a distance; centre of Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’; a specially tailored, top-of-the-range Devo Manc devolution package; and only last week a ground-breaking health and social care spending deal.

For IWD, the city council’s website has a classy-looking IWD page, its own IWD theme – ‘Breaking Through’ (snappier, certainly, than the UN’s ‘Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!’), its own annual IWD awards, plus a comprehensive listing of events.

But then, in addition, it has the chutzpah to claim itself as “the birthplace of women’s suffrage in the UK” – yes, of the whole suffrage movement, rather than, presumably, of the Women’s Social and Political Union at the Pankhursts’ Manchester home as late as 1903. Even the Manchester Suffrage Committee (1867) was preceded by Sheffield’s (1851); and what about Jeremy Bentham’s persistent advocacy, the 1832 and 1835 Acts that gave at least some women the actual right to vote, etc.? So, come off it, Manchester, don’t be greedy!

There was another surprise on the IWD website itself – that, of the 1,000+ IWD ‘events’ already registered, the UK will be contributing virtually twice the number of any other single country, the US included. Not all are happening this weekend; indeed, in the date-ordered listings the first actual IWD event doesn’t appear until page 17 – “A Gathering of Goddesses, celebrating ourselves, all women and Mother Earth” at The Hurlers stone circles in Cornwall.

Sadly, one thing the Goddesses won’t be celebrating is this country’s narrowing gender gap – because it isn’t. Over the past decade, according to the best comparative data available, the UK’s overall gender gap hasn’t closed at all in absolute terms. Judged alongside some 120 other countries, the relative gap has widened, as it has on all major sub-indexes, on some of which it has widened absolutely.

The instrument that measures these things is the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap (GGG) Index, the 2014 report of which is its 9th annual edition.

Being an index, its principal interest is less in actual levels than in the gaps between men and women in four main categories (sub-indexes). Economic Participation and Opportunity records labour force participation rates, remuneration, and career advancement. Educational Attainment is about access to primary, secondary and tertiary education. Health and Survival combines sex ratios at birth – to capture internationally the phenomenon of ‘missing women’ – and healthy life expectancy. Political Empowerment compares the ratios of men and women in ministerial and parliamentary positions.

In all indexes, the highest possible score is 1 (equality) and the lowest is 0 (inequality), although in my own adaptations I prefer to lose the decimal points and percentagise the proportion of the possible 100% gender gap that’s been closed.

And the UK’s embarrassment, particularly on International Women’s Day, is that since 2006 our overall gender gap hasn’t closed by a single percentage point. In my graph, 74% of the gap was closed in 2006, and in 2014 it was still 74%, our ranking having dropped from 9th to 26th.

gender graph

Meanwhile, all sorts of countries had overtaken us – not just the US and the volatile French, but from parts of the world one wouldn’t necessarily expect: Nicaragua (6th), Rwanda (7th), the Philippines (9th), Latvia (15th), Burundi (17th), Bulgaria (22nd), Slovenia (23rd) and Moldova (25th).

As already indicated, there’s not much to celebrate in any of the indexes, but naturally some make less embarrassing reading than others. In education, for example, we have a rare sub-index measure of more than 1.00 – a 1.36 female-to-male enrolment ratio in tertiary education – although it’s more than cancelled out by a 0.94 ratio for primary education.

Two sub-indexes are particularly gloomy. On none of the five Economic Participation measures is the UK ranked even as high as 45th, with ratios for career advancement of 0.52, for estimated earned income of 0.62, and wage equality for equal work of 0.69. And a Political Empowerment graph would look very similar to the overall one, the key difference being that the UK’s purple line of shame this time would signify an actual widening of the gender gap, with our ranking plummeting from 12th in 2006 to 33rd.

As we approach the election, our ratios of women in parliament and in ministerial positions are 0.29 and 0.19 respectively – compared, for instance, to Denmark 0.64, 0.83; Finland 0.74, 1.0; South Africa 0.81, 0.59; and Rwanda 1.0, 0.65. Of which the best that can be said is that at least the bar for the next lot to try to jump is set pretty low.

Chris Game - pic

Chris Game is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.