South Australia has a reputation for being a leader nationally when it comes to gender equality. In 1861, women who owned property in the colony of South Australia were granted the right to vote in Council elections. In 1894, the Parliament of South Australia endorsed the right of women to vote and stand for parliament. This made SA the first State in Australia to introduce such legislation, which came into effect in 1895*.
Local government in South Australia is continuing this leadership with a record 454 women nominating for the most recent elections, and 22 women elected as Mayors across the state. The City of Adelaide’s Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor is very proud to be among those 22, serving as only the third female City of Adelaide Lord Mayor in 178 years.
“South Australia’s most recent local government elections showed that the balance is starting to redress itself. The representation of men and women needs to be equal, otherwise you’re only getting half the story with the input, needs, wants and aspirations of half the community. I encourage women to be active in their communities and to have a voice,” said Sandy.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Better the balance, better the world and with close to a fifty-fifty staff gender balance, the City of Adelaide is walking the walk when it comes to gender balance.
To the corporation’s CEO Mark Goldstone, this is a strong signal of where the future is heading.
“Gender balance to me, as a CEO, is critically important and something that I’m very passionate about,” said Mark.
“By utilising the full potential of both women and men, our organisation is more innovative and skilled, and therefore better able to service our ratepayers on a wide variety of issues. Gender balance is critical to the organisation’s success,” said Mark.
The Lord Mayor has held many and varied roles across the arts, business and local government, including as a general manager at the City of Adelaide.
“When I worked at council, I was really impressed by the gender balance through all levels of the corporation,” said Sandy. “This gender balance is vital to informing policy and workplace practice.”
“What I have often seen throughout my career however is that the lower tiers within an organisation are generally well balanced but, as you get to management levels, the number of females tends to drop off. We are seeing this change more and more and I am proud that at the City of Adelaide, forty-seven per cent of the corporation’s leadership positions are held by women,” said Sandy.
At the City of Adelaide, providing flexible working options has been just one way the corporation has sought to encourage gender balance.
“Offering more flexibility for women leads to a greater retention of skilled staff. We support women returning to work after having children with job sharing and part time work. Flexibility for men also helps achieve a better work-life balance for everyone, ” said Mark.
“Within our council, you’ll find women capably and successfully occupying roles within public realm, horticulture and management. Staff at all levels need to play their part to redress gender equity and this is an ongoing process.”
Both the CEO and the Lord Mayor agree that it’s up to everyone to act to address gender balance and equity.
“The strongest role a woman can play in terms of balance is to not stereotype your children, friends and family but encourage them to step up, step forward, put themselves out there and fight for what they think is important and for their passion in life, whatever that may be,” said Sandy.
Mark believes men have a role to play in calling out bad behaviour.
“Men can support gender balance by speaking up if anyone says something inappropriate about women in the workplace, whether it be comments to a colleague or liaising with clients,” said Mark. “Not acting sends a signal that this negative behaviour is okay – and it’s just not acceptable.”
*Source: Office for Women, South Australia