England & Wales Press Releases

Women under-represented in leadership roles in Northern Powerhouse

EMBARGO: 00:01 1st June 2016



Women under-represented in leadership roles in Northern Powerhouse, says Fawcett Society research


New research from the Fawcett Society today reveals that while the Government’s plans for a Northern Powerhouse to boost economic growth in the North of England surge ahead, gender equality continues to lag behind.

Despite 40% of councillors in the Northern Powerhouse region being women, the most senior roles in the new tier of government are dominated by men. Women make up just 28% of those in leadership roles[1] in the combined authorities which are set to deliver George Osborne’s vision for a reinvigorated local democracy. These figures come as the Fawcett Society launches a year-long study to tackle gender bias in local government.


Other key findings include:

  • Women make up just 21% of Council Leaders and Directly Elected Mayors in the Northern Powerhouse Region
  • Only 1 of the 7 chairs of the established and proposed combined authorities in the northern powerhouse region are women
  • Of 134 senior leadership roles in the Northern Powerhouse 96 (or 72%) of these are occupied by men
  • The City deals underpinning devolution come with a commitment to regional directly elected mayors – but so far only 4 of the 16 existing directly elected mayors in England and Wales are women


The report also finds cause for some optimism, for instance, Manchester City Council has achieved equal representation of women and men and a number of others such as North Tyneside, Leeds City Council and Hull City Council[2] have achieved near 50:50 representation. But these pockets of progress do not always translate into more women at the most senior levels. Overall men still heavily dominate in senior positions of power.


The charity warns that as an increasing amount of power and decision making is concentrated in the hands of combined authorities and directly elected mayors, without concerted action devolution and the Northern Powerhouse could risk shutting women out of key decisions about regional development. Fawcett is today urging national and local government and the political parties to ensure that the devolution agenda has gender equality and diversity at its heart.


These figures come as the Fawcett Society and Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) launch a year-long Commission, jointly chaired by Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Conservative councillor Cllr Gillian Keegan, Director of Women2Win, assessing whether local government is working for women. Funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Commission will adopt a strategic approach and focus on the newly created structures at local level and how they are including or excluding women. It will also gather evidence over the next 12 months on:


  • women’s representation at a local level, and in particular focus on women in positions of power and leadership and where women make a positive difference
  • the barriers to women’s participation and representation and the practical solutions which would enable more women to participate
  • the diversity of women’s representation including BAME women, disabled women, those with caring responsibilities and different age groups

The Commission will be gathering evidence throughout the year, hold meetings around the country and produce a final report with recommendations to ensure women are better represented at every level of local government and the opportunities for greater gender equality presented by devolution are not missed.


Commenting Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:

“The truth is, whether we intend to or not, we are devolving power from women to men by establishing new structures for local government with no regard for gender equality or diversity.

“We know that 75% of local government employees are women and women are disproportionately dependent on local services. Women’s representation matters but at the moment the Northern Powerhouse risks becoming just another boys’ club.

“Devolution is a one off opportunity to put gender equality at the heart of our country’s growth. But so far we’re missing out. Let’s get women into those leadership positions and avoid making the same old mistakes. There’s still time for new combined authorities to learn the lessons of the Northern Powerhouse”

Lauren Lucas, Head of Projects, Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), said:
“The diversity of leadership across local government is simply not good enough. We see this very clearly as the prominent voices around the devolution agenda continue to emerge.

“The Commission’s work is vital at this stage to ensure that women’s voices are included in these essential debates that have such a huge impact on women’s lives. It’s not just about women at the top. It’s about developing a pipeline of women leaders across local government to ensure that their voices are adequately represented at all levels.”

Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake, said:

“I am very proud of the fact that for the first time in the city’s history, Leeds City Council now has more women than men in senior political roles and overall in the Labour group there are now more women councillors than men. The days of there being any kind of glass ceiling or boys’ club ethos in top jobs need to be very much consigned to history. There is clearly progress being made but much more needs to be done so that we can reach the stage where gender equality and diversity are fully accepted in every walk of life and we are simply talking about the best person to do the job.”


For more information about the Fawcett Society’s latest research or to submit evidence please visit http://bit.ly/FawcettLocalGovt




For further information, interviews or images please contact

Fresh Communication 0845 0945 468

Abby Richardson [email protected] 07876 378 733

Lisa Sutherland [email protected] 07801 979 987


Notes to editors

For the purposes of this analysis northern powerhouse regions are identified as Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, North East Combined Authority, Tees Valley Combined Authority and the boroughs that form the Humber Local Enterprise Partnerships

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. We want to see a society in which individuals can fulfil their potential regardless of their sex. www.fawcettsociety.org.uk

The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) is a think tank and membership body with over 200 councils and other organisations subscribing to our networks. We work to strengthen local democracy and put citizens in control of their own lives, communities and local services. For more information, visit lgiu.org.

The Barrow Cadbury Trust is an independent charitable foundation, committed to bringing about socially just change. www.barrowcadbury.org.uk


The Local Government Commission members are:

Name Organisation
Angela Mason London Borough of Camden
Anne Baldwin Women’s Local Government Society
Binita Mehta former Conservative group Lead, Watford Borough Council
Chris Naylor London Borough of Barking And Dagenham
Cllr Gillian Keegan Chichester Council and Women2 Win
Dame Margaret Hodge MP
Deborah Cadman SOLACE
Heather Wakefield Unison
Cllr Judith Blake Leeds City Council
Nan Sloane Centre for Women and Democracy
Pam Cole Women’s Budget Group
Rita Patel Operation Black Vote
Sam Smethers Fawcett Society
Sarah Pickup LGA
Shaminder Takhar London Southbank University
Simon Woolley Operation Black Vote
Sophie Walker Women’s Equality Party

[1] Across all the combined authorities which make up the Northern Powerhouse there are 134 possible senior leadership positions; these are the leaders and directly elected mayors, deputy leaders and chief executives of the constituent local authorities and chairs of the combined authorities.

[2] 48% of councillors in North Tyneside are female, 42% in Leeds City Council and 46% in Hull City Council