Government accused of lip service on local authority gender equality

Camille Loftus
Camille Loftus said a recent Dáil question had also revealed that the Minister for Housing, Environment and Local Government could produce no gender employment figures for any Irish local authority, despite collecting quarterly data on local authority staffing.

The Government has been criticised for failing to collect details of the gender pay gap and gender-based occupational segregation in local councils, or to require local authorities to publish such data. In a report published today (Thursday) at IMPACT’s Local Government Division Conference in Letterkenny, the union also accused local authorities of failing to implement their own family-friendly employment policies, which could help remove barriers to women’s career advancement in the sector.

The report, What gets measured gets managed: gender inequality in local government, says the Local Government Management Association’s most recent workforce planning report conspicuously made no reference to gender, despite boasting ‘extensive data’ on employment in the sector. “No gender breakdown appears to have been requested, even though this is a core consideration in workforce planning,” it says.

The report’s author, social researcher Camille Loftus, said a recent Dáil question had also revealed that the Minister for Housing, Environment and Local Government could produce no gender employment figures for any Irish local authority, despite collecting quarterly data on local authority staffing.

“There is a gaping deficit in relation to gender equality and access to family friendly policies in the local government sector. But if ‘what gets measured gets managed,’ we should not be surprised at continued gender inequality within local government,” Ms Loftus told the conference.

A 2013 report by a national newspaper found that 10 out of 34 local authorities had no women in managerial positions. In the best performing authority, just 21% of senior staff were female. Overall, 83% of council staff in the lowest two clerical grades were women.

IMPACT national secretary Peter Nolan said the absence of women in senior local government posts was in large part due to the sector’s worsening record on implementing flexitime arrangements and other family friendly policies. The conference passed motions condemning the erosion of family friendly policies, and calling on the union to initiate a nationwide campaign on the issue.

According to the report: “By and large, local government has a lamentable record in implementing family friendly flexibility, even compared to other sectors in the Irish public service. Progressive family friendly policies have been shown to be effective in tackling the ‘glass ceiling’ that hampers women’s career progression by enabling consistent participation in the workforce over time, and allowing women to build the experience, skills and networks that lead to promotions to more senior positions.”

The union urged local government minister Simon Coveney to collect and publish statistics on the gender pay gap and gender segregation between grades in local authorities. “This would be in line with the recently-published National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020, which contains a Government commitment to report the results of the gender pay gap surveys it intends to introduce for organisations with 50 or more employees,” according to Mr Nolan.

IMPACT is Ireland’s largest public service union with almost 60,000 members, including over 12,000 local authority staff. Its Local Government Division conference is underway in Letterkenny, County Donegal, this week.

The conference continues until Friday (12th May), follow the discussion at @IMPACTTU / #lg17.