City of Boroondara’s Councillor Coral Ross believes in the maxim that if a council doesn’t reflect the community, it can’t hope to serve the community.
Coral was the only woman on the council prior to the 2012 election – now there are three women councilors and she is looking forward to the day there are equal numbers of men and women in local government. Coral is the Victorian President of the Australian Women in Local Government Association (ALGWA).
“If we had more women and more young people involved it would make for stronger councils with a more diverse range of ideas coming through.”
She says women need to be tapped on the shoulder to stand for local government, “Women are generally well prepared and make sure they are qualified for the role. They often don’t think they have the ability to stand but they do, for most community organisations are run by women.”
While she doesn’t approve of generalisations, Coral says council has shown her that women tend to think differently from men when it comes to decision-making. “Men generally make decisions quickly. Where as women like to talk through the detail of an issue and hear all sides of the argument before making up their minds. They tend to take the time to discover the facts.”
When it comes to getting more women into local government, Coral advocates for getting an understanding of your council and its dynamics.
For her the subtle approach works, as she has found that a lot of men resent it if you ‘beat the drum’ on the issue of women’s participation. She developed a range of tactics to make it clear to the community that she was the sole female in council.
For example, wearing bright colours in group photos, “People commented on it at the election, saying they saw I was the only female councillor and they felt that was not right.”
Coral’s advice to women who feel outnumbered in local government is to get together with women from other councils and talk through your concerns. “The systems are the same in each council and you can learn from their experience and advice.” She recommends ALGWA as one way to gain support and strengthen your confidence, “Get together with other women, for it’s often better to talk something through with those who understand how councils operate and support each other.”