One of the issues I've written a lot about, and done some basic analysis on, is women's political representation in Aotearoa New Zealand. For the last two general elections I've looked at each party's likely caucus, based on list placings and electorate seats, and predicted the gender breakdown. I've been particularly critical of National, whose 2011 election result explicitly reduced the number of women in Parliament, due to their list and electorate seat selections.
Now that I myself am an elected politician I have focused a bit more on the politicians around me - Auckland Council's Local Boards and Governing Body. I put together a presentation for the women themed session of the Social & Community Development Forum about the topic. My conclusions were that women's representation seems to be plateauing at around 35%, and the problem is not with the voters but with the selections.
Now I have to eat my words, at least in part.
Thirteen. That's the number of women me or one of my running mates asked to run on our ticket for the Puketapapa Local Board. Each one turned us down; immediately (a few), after a bit of a think (most), after being a strong maybe (a few), after saying yes please (one). I believe every single one of them would have made a great Local Board member. Maybe, hopefully, some will in future elections.
None of them mentioned the politics of our ticket as the issue. All were gratified to have been approached, and in most cases had never considered it themselves, despite being actively involved in their local community. With each respective "no thanks" came good wishes for the campaign and in many cases offers to help out.
And so now I am the last woman standing; one woman on the Roskill Community Voice ticket with five others, standing for the six spots available. I'm sure I won't be the only woman standing in this area as there is at least one other ticket and both of the incumbent Governing Body members (councillors) are women and seeking re-election, one of them with the umbrella ticket RCV is affiliated with, City Vision. But it does feel a bit lonely, a bit of a boys' club!
Don't get me wrong, I am very pleased with my ticket-mates; their commitment to our area is strong, their past records on social justice good. They will all be fantastic Local Board members too.
So why did these wonderful capable intelligent women turn down this great opportunity to make positive change in their neighbourhoods and surrounds? Mostly because of time. The Remuneration Authority recently calculated that Local Board members spend on average 24 hours a week on that job. My observation is that that would vary wildly amongst those currently elected, but then we are the first to experience a brand new super-city structure. Many genuinely didn't realise the time commitment when they stood and haven't been able to rearrange their lives to allow for that. Others seem to think they can do the job justice by limiting their time to a few hours a week. It will be interesting to see how the latter fare if they stand for re-election.
There aren't a lot of part time jobs out there which allow the flexibility required for local body politicians to cover everything. The pay for being a local board member isn't enough to ditch other income options entirely, for most. I get $36,000 a year (before tax) and I have so much respect for those who get by on that alone; I work two days a week in another job as well. I gave up an $80K+ pa job to do this (and I don't regret it except when I go shopping).
So the time issue is considerable; wondering if you could keep doing your other job, whether your boss would let you go part time, potentially giving up a role you love or a project you wanted to see through, and then there's working in with other obligations like family, being on a Board of Trustees, perhaps a health condition, or wanting to be able to travel.
There were a lot of other practical considerations too; what if I have a baby? Does it get nasty? How autonomous is the role or does the chair order everyone around? Would it create a conflict of interest with this other thing I'm involved in? How much does it cost? While the overriding factor given was time, all of these and more were in the mix for some.
What I noticed from this was how almost every woman was carefully thinking myriad factors through. Less focused on "do I want to do this, would I be good at this" but instead on "can I actually do this?"
In contrast there was no issue finding men to run. There almost never is, from my political experience of the last fifteen plus years. The men I've observed have largely been more likely to say yes, to put themselves forward, and worry about how it will all work out if they get elected after polling day, not before.
Maybe it's because many fellas have women in their lives who do sort the practicalities; behind every great man etc (vomit). Maybe it's because many ladies are socialised more to think they have to have everything just right to do something, have to be able to answer every question emphatically. Possibly it's because politics is still a male-dominated environment, and many women know that, even if just sub-consciously, and they don't really want to go to there.
How do we fix this? I don't know. But I'm very super extra keen to find out. Do let me know what your ideas are!
My thoughts are that this shouldn't be, and isn't, about fixing women (Judy McGregor once called me, rightly, on the oft-raised solutionidea of mentoring) but about fixing a system that women don't seem to fit into.
Finally, if you are a woman and you are thinking about running for local government and you are wavering then my advice is to run. Worry about how it will work out later, if you need to. Put yourself up, put your nomination in, contest selection if you need to, then campaign. If you are not the electioneering type then find some great women to support, and some great men who support women too, and do what you can to help. Even if it's simply using the power of like, please don't underestimate the difference you can make, even just with the clicky.
PS If anyone wants to have a chat with me about running or supporting awesome people who are running in their area then feel free to email julie dot fairey at gmail dot com. In some places selections for tickets are already done, so you may have missed your window of opportunity to run with a team, but I'm happy to answer questions and share thoughts regardless.