Cr Jill Parker, Moyne Shire Council
My advice to women in male dominated councils is to focus on the issues, call out gender-biased comments, and don’t be defensive – you have been elected the same as every other councillor, so you have as much right to be there as they do.
I have now been a councillor for nearly nine years, having first been elected in 2008. Prior to being a councillor, I was a partner in a sheep property, and a school teacher (every profitable farm has a school teacher or a nurse involved, so they say!).
Being the only woman in the council has not concerned me too much, as I am used to working in male-dominated fields (both as a farmer and a science/agricultural science graduate and teacher) and I am not intimidated by the situation. But there definitely are times when I feel isolated from the ‘in group’. And I am sad that the council is not reflective of its population.
I always remember that I was elected by the community, and I work to represent them as a whole and to advocate on their behalf.
I find that by focussing on the issue at hand and not on personal opinions, my views are respected even if not always agreed with.
I don’t believe that there are any extra responsibilities that come with being the only female on council. Every councillor has the responsibility to represent every member of the community in its diversity. There are times when councillors need to be reminded of this. However, a lot of men resent it if you ‘beat the drum’ on the issue of women’s participation, so tread gently but firmly and get your point across.
The counsel of other women cannot be over-stated in supporting you in your role. Find someone who you feel comfortable to confide in (either from within or without the council system – although someone who knows about the workings of local government is probably a good choice) who is willing to support you and act as a sounding board for you. It’s good to be able to debrief.