Rebecca McKenzie is CEO for Glen Eira City Council. She’s the current President of LGPro and passionate about seeing more women represented in leadership positions in Local Government.
In her role on the judging panel for the Top 50 Public Sector Women list, she chats with Sharon Ardley about the gender challenges facing Local Councils.
Your passion for gender balance is palpable. What drives you to become an ambassador for the cause?
Local Government is the closest level of government to the community. It goes without saying that we should also be representative of that community – in all sorts of ways, not just gender. Of the 79 Councils in Victoria only 12 are currently led by women. We know that there are far more than 12 women in local government capable of being CEOs, so something needs to shift. I intend to use my year as 2017 President of LGPro to influence change in this area.
In 2016 you participated in a working committee to advise the Minister of gender challenges in the public sector. What outcomes have you seen as a result of the findings of that committee?
Interestingly the Ministerial Round-Table is still running and will continue to meet a few times a year to monitor the progress that has been made. It’s still early days but we are discussing legislative, cultural and systemic changes which together should see a shift over time. The most recent initiative to be rolled out if a Listen Learn and Lead program, led by sector CEOs. Importantly, for the first time we are also talking about transparently and publicly measuring our progress and reporting it to the community, which should build better accountability for the change needed.
At a local government level, have you seen a significant push to gain gender balance in the workplace?
For many years local government, like all sectors, has seen an increased emphasis on equality of opportunity and diversity programs. Despite all this focus, disappointingly women remain drastically under-represented at CEO level, and to a lesser extent at executive level. The 2017 President of each of the sector’s three peak bodies is currently a woman (LGPro, MAV and VLGA) so I expect that that will also bring a greater sharpness of focus on the opportunity for change.
What programs or initiatives have you seen to be effective in growing the numbers of females in senior roles in local government?
I’ve always been a champion for appointment on merit, and will continue to be. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing more to ensure that the candidate pools from which we select have a better balance of male and female candidates. Development programs, secondment opportunities, coaching and targeted executive search can all help bring that diversity. When I’m recruiting I am always very clear that I expect a balanced shortlist wherever possible, even if it means getting the recruitment consultant to work harder in stimulating interest.
How have you effected change in the gender balance in your role at Glen Eira City Council?
Prior to my commencement at Glen Eira the executive team was all men. While women were quite well represented at Manager level, it had been a very stable organisation for a long time, with very limited turnover at Director and CEO levels. Forty per cent of our executive team are now women and we continue to have women representing approximately Fifty per cent of the senior management cohort.
What do you feel is the single biggest challenge facing the public sector in achieving gender balance at senior levels?
The research that LGPro has led in the sector indicates that the biggest challenge remains the age old issue of confidence. We know that women will be less likely to apply for a role unless they feel that they are able to satisfy one hundred per cent of the requirements of the role from day one, whereas some men will be more prepared to apply first, and work out the rest later. Finding ways to build women’s confidence and enable them to develop the broad leadership skills that will support success upon appointment should therefore be a priority focus for us.
Entries are now open and nominations can be submitted for the Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria). For more information go to: www.publicsectorwomen.com.au