Month: August 2018

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan 1 Comment

Why (would a woman go into) Politics?

It’s turbulent times in Australian politics. Many of us are shaking our heads at the games recently played out in the tumultuous environment of our federal parliament.

But, spare a thought for the women involved.  MPs Julie Bishop, Julia Banks, Emma Hauser and Sarah Hansen-Young are household names after recent events in federal parliament. But I bet these women would rather be known for their political leadership and public service contribution rather than examples of how gender can define political debate.

Increasingly, it seems these women may have sacrificed a lot in their efforts to represent their community.

A time of anguish

I remember the first time I saw the famous French sculpture of The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. Even though it was decades ago, the art continues to inspire me. Beautifully rendered in bronze, the sculpture captures the agonising surrender of six community leaders (Councillors), who in 14th Century France volunteered their lives in exchange for a peace deal. The victorious English King who had long waged war on their town wanted their heads. In Calais, France, the Burghers are in a group, their faces etched in agony, defeat and grief. They seem to be walking towards their death, nooses around their necks and the keys to the city in their hands.

The faces of those brave Burghers came back to me this week. This time, reflected in the anguished expressions of four, 21st Century, female politicians.

Through various media reports, I witnessed the chilled resignation on the face of Deputy Leader Julie Bishop, realising she had missed out on the top job despite 20 years of competent service. Federal MP Emma Hauser in near tears, defending her decision to step down in the face of hurtful, personal attacks which she described as untrue and a form of torture. Federal MP Julia Banks calling out ‘bullying and intimidation’ in her party which prompted her to quit at the next election after only one term. These came only weeks after Senator Sarah Hanson-Young instigated a defamation case against a male politician for his remarks to her which she says were ‘slut-shaming’ and caused her ‘considerable harm’.

Female leaders who have sacrificed themselves by stepping forward to represent those of us who desire an inclusive, fairer democracy.

Women are turning-off

I’m into politics. I support women to run for public office. When people ask me ‘why on earth would a clever, competent woman possibly consider running for public office when this goes on?’ I know it’s a good question.

Currently, women make up one-third of our State and Federal parliaments yet female representation has been slipping back in recent years. In terms of political empowerment of women, Australia used to rank 38th in the world eight years ago, now we are 48th.

We can’t afford for this to decline and for women to turn-off politics. For the sake of our country, our councils, our legislatures, we need women to be at the table; sharing the power and contributing to good decision-making for all of us. We can’t give up.

“It’s not good enough to be heard. Women must be at the decision-making table” Jacinda Ardern

We need female politicians

With greater representation from female politicians, democracy becomes more effective because we get to hear from ‘the other 50 per cent’. As a result, parliaments tend to be more inclusive and responsive.

Madeleine Albright said that women in power “can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses that others accept.”

Not only do women contribute different views, studies also show that women politicians engage more with constituents and are better lawmakers than men. American research into the legislative impact of women in politics found that:

“As more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities”.

The National Democratic Institute reports that when comparing male politicians to female politicians, from all parties, women tend to be more likely to:

  • work across party lines
  • be highly responsive to constituent concerns
  • help secure lasting peace
  • encourage citizen confidence in democracy through their own participation, and
  • prioritize health, education, and other key development indicators.

Another analysis suggests that parties that struggle to get women into parliament also find it harder to get women to vote for them. In short, a party with a ‘woman problem’ and a ‘boys-club’ culture may find that it has a problem with women voters.  The results of the next Federal election may demonstrate this.

Five reasons for a woman to run

Next time someone asks ‘why would a woman run for politics?’ here are my top reasons why I would encourage a woman to definitely consider politics:

  1. Successful democracies reflect the views of their citizens. Australia is a fair country. When women step up, we get to hear from the ‘other 50%’ of us.
  2. As a politician a woman has power. She can get stuff done. Why let the fellas have it all? Get to the table and have a say.
  3. There’s no point in complaining about the current situation if you are not prepared to be part of the solution. As the slogan goes ‘Don’t get mad, get elected’.
  4. ‘Be the change you want to see’. Become a role model for other women (and to those young girls who dream of being Prime Minister one day)
  5. Hillary Clinton said, ‘Politics is the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible’. As an elected representative you have the enormous privilege of making a positive a difference for your community, state or country. Grab it.

It’s time to run

Fortunately, those brave Burghers of Calais met a happy ending. According to Wikipedia, they were saved from their execution by a woman. The English queen persuaded her husband the king, to show mercy as their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.

In answer to that question: A diverse democracy thrives on the views of female politicians. Our parties need women candidates in order to win. We need female lawmakers for fairer decisions.

The data shows that our politics are improved with more women politicians. Let’s not see recent events as an omen for the future of inclusive politics. We can choose optimism over despair. It’s time to support women to stand for office or vote for them (if we like their policies). Let’s work together for more #WomenInPolitics.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a past Mayor, community activist, councillor-coach and consultant to local government. She is a champion for more women in local government and delivers training on political campaigning. Follow her on twitter @hula_grl  (Photos Wikipedia commons) 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Council CEO Churn hits a high; why?

Right now, if you’re a Chief Executive Officer in charge of a Victorian council, I reckon you would be hanging on pretty tightly to your seat.

That’s because the last two years have seen an enormous change in the local government sector with ‘CEO churn’ at an all-time high.

Thirty-Three. That’s the number of CEO roles that have been up for grabs across the Victorian Local Government sector in the past 20 months; a massive 42% in 2017 & 2018. And you can bet there will be a few more CEO roles up for grabs by the end of the year.

From tiny Buloke shire in the north-west (pop 6300) to the enormous City of Casey on the edge of Melbourne (approx. 300,000 people) both have recently appointed new CEOs.

It’s the same all across Victoria. From Moyne shire in the south-west to East Gippsland it feels like every second council has or is looking for, a new CEO.

Why the movement?

Given that there are only 79 councils in Victoria local government, it’s not considered unusual to have up to ten CEO roles advertised in any one year. However, recently, many of the ‘more-senior’ CEOs have retired and are enjoying a well-deserved break from what can be a full on (yet rewarding) job.

Ambitious, younger CEOs have moved to larger councils to advance their careers. Others simply haven’t had their contract renewed by Councillors or have been unceremoniously ‘moved on’ after failing to satisfy the elected representatives.

Perhaps the current surge in appointments has to do with the election cycle.

Under the Local Government Act, Councillors have only one employee to hire and manage -their CEO. Previous council elections (October 2016) saw around a 50 % turnover of Councillors. With a new bunch of elected representatives, sometimes Councillors don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with the direction of a previous council. Fairly or unfairly, some may attribute past council action (or inaction) to the current CEO. As a result, sometimes Councillors will seek a change in direction by searching for a new CEO.

At other times, a CEO might see ‘the writing on the wall’ and choose to resign in their own time, rather than being ‘pushed’ by a new council. Sometimes a CEO may choose to leave in the middle of the Councillor term, enabling Councillors sufficient time to recruit a new CEO and settle him/her in prior to the next election (October 2020).

Does it matter?

What are the implications of this level of ‘churn’ in the sector and does it really matter? Perhaps change is good for Councillors who want to avoid complacency, and the risk of a CEO becoming complacent, or one who stops listening and delivering results.

How long should a CEO stay? A Harvard Business Review article on this topic suggests seven years, plus or minus two as  ‘a reasonable number: seven years is probably the period of maximum effectiveness for most people in what can be a very stressful job’[i]. They suggest there are three phases to a CEO job which evolves from the Entry stage to Consolidation and then Decline.

Ideally, a CEO will realise it is time to move on when they are “at that sweet spot of being at the peak of their performance, just before the decline”. 

Councillors need to skill-up

The other impact of all this CEO recruitment activity is that many Councillors who have never employed a CEO before, are suddenly finding themselves having to build their knowledge and skills around the process of executive recruitment, placement and performance management.

The fact is, that Councillors come from all walks of life and few have experience in hiring staff at the executive level.

Many simply don’t have the skills to employ staff at the level and salary of a contemporary Council CEO. Typically a council will spend approximately $30-60,000 on the CEO recruitment process. It can involve hundreds of hours of Councillors’ time as they engage a recruitment agency, advertise widely, select and interview candidates and finally manage the placement of the preferred candidate

At times, this means Councillors may put blind trust in the executive search agency and take a ‘hands-off’ approach when they really could be paying more attention to the whole process for their ‘one employee’.

It is important for Councillors to successfully manage the recruitment of a new CEO and get it right the first time. They certainly don’t want to waste ratepayers’ funds by having to go back to the beginning because of a ‘dud’ appointment.

Independent advice is important

Many Councillors are recognising the value of independent support to guide them through the CEO recruitment process.

Increasingly, as part of my consultancy services, I am being approached by Councillors who are seeking assistance from an independent expert who has no conflict of interest in CEO placement and can, therefore, advise Councillors on what they need to know, manage and avoid. They see this as an important investment in due diligence.

The importance of independent support in CEO employment has also been recognised by the Victorian State Government who have proposed a new Local Government Bill (currently before Parliament) to deliver greater transparency in CEO employment. The Act requires Councils to develop and adopt a CEO Employment and Remuneration policy and to obtain independent professional advice in relation to the matters dealt with the CEO employment.

There is an unprecedented level of CEO churn in Victorian councils at the moment. With all this change it is heartening to see many Councillors seeking independent advice and support with the recruitment process to help them employ an outstanding candidate for the council team, officers and the municipality. Please get in touch if I can assist.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant to local government and supports Councillors as an independent adviser in the recruitment of their CEO. She is a former Mayor, Councillor and has been on a number of boards where she has been involved in CEO recruitment.

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