The National Assembly for Wales was once the world leader for gender equality in public life. The 2003 Assembly elections ended male dominance in Wales’ corridors of power for the first time. But those benefits were not felt across all levels of public life. The Senedd's glass ceiling has been repaired. Sadly, many projections see equality only getting worse after the 2016 Assembly elections.
Underrepresented groups in public life -- women being the largest -- need support to develop the skills, knowledge and mind-set to lead in their communities and beyond. They also need help.
Those who reach the upper echelons of public life have gone on a journey. They have started in their communities, perhaps running campaigns to save a library. They have volunteered as school governors or trustees. They have served as councillors for their communities and counties. This is where we must start when we aim to broaden the pipeline of talent appointed to our boards and elected to our halls of power.
Here are three ways Wales can open the doors to public life and encourage a more diverse group of tomorrow’s leaders:
1. Opportunities at every level of public life should be explained, advertised and the processes for selection made transparent. Whilst great effort has gone into achieving this at a national level, not enough work has been done within communities. Too many local roles go unknown to qualified and diverse groups of people simply because they do not know the opportunities exist. If they do know, the roles are often explained with jargon and seem out of reach. Yet roles, such as school governors, magistrates, NHS community health councils, and charity trustee boards are the roles where many of our future leaders get their start in public life.
Welsh Government, local authorities, magistrates and third sector organisations must make sure they tap on the shoulder of the public, not only of their friends and acquaintances.
2. Employers should use opportunities in public life to develop and engage their workforce. Simply by serving as a school governor, local charity trustee or standing in a local election, employees can build bigger networks, understand different sectors and gain new skills. Not only does this contribute greatly to the work environment but also enables individuals to play a more active role as citizens in their wider community. By supporting staff to access these opportunities, staff will grow and develop in both the workplace and in public life.
This is an investment in a better workforce and a better Wales.
3. Men must make a difference to reach equality in public life. With too few women in public life, the majority must take a conscious lead to encourage and help more women to join the boards, councils, Assembly and Parliaments. This starts with encouragement. Not enough women consider entering public life simply because they’re not encouraged to consider it. Men must reach further to mentor -- and even sponsor -- women in order to bring balance to power.
Above all, there must be a conscious effort to create a diverse group of gender-balanced candidates for appointed and elected roles in public life.
Do you want to be part of our manifesto to bring equality to public life?
Get in touch. Women Making a Difference is already breaking down barriers through its work. But it isn't enough. We need your support.