Adelaide Living

Striking a better balance for women in the workplace

Since 1895, South Australia has played an influential role in promoting and celebrating gender equality, championing many ‘firsts’ in this area, both within the workplace and the broader community.

It was in that year that South Australia became the first place in the world to allow women to stand for parliament as well as the first Australian Colony to grant women the vote. Later, in 1915, women police appointed in this State became the first in the British Empire to be engaged on equal terms with male officers.

Today, the City of Adelaide is proud to be playing its part in offering equal professional opportunities to women and providing true community representation on Council itself.

With the swearing in of Sandy Verschoor on 15 December 2015 – joining Natasha Malani, Anne Moran, Megan Hender, Priscilla Corbell-Moore and Susan Clearihan as female Councillors – the Council chamber comprised, for the first time ever, an even number of women and men members.  At that same Council meeting, Councillor Hender was elected to take on the role of Deputy Mayor from February 2016 until February 2017.

Elected members of City of Adelaide (2014-2018)
Elected members of City of Adelaide (2014-2018)

The City of Adelaide is also succeeding in striking a more even gender balance at an organisational level, with the ratio of employees across the Corporation itself currently sitting close to 50/50* – including an equal number of women and men at the Director level.

Councillor Hender believes Council’s 50/50 gender split demonstrates the progressive nature of the current administration and, as with diversity of any nature, is an extremely positive outcome for the whole community. However, she acknowledges it was a long time in the making.

“We (South Australia) started out well, but then I think we had a big lull,” says Megan.

“When I was elected to Council six years ago, it was about 175 years old and, at that stage, I was the 19th woman to be elected as a representative. That means we were grossly under represented for 175 years.”

To be fair, it wasn’t until 1914 that women were legally entitled to stand for Council elections in South Australia and while several took up the challenge before the 1920s, none succeeded until Susan Benny become Australia’s first female Councillor in 1919, with her election to the Adelaide metropolitan council of Brighton.

Megan was the fifth female to hold the Deputy Mayor position for the City of Adelaide. She’s optimistic the scales will remain more balanced in the future and feels the best way to inspire young women to strive for management and executive roles in the public and private sectors is to lead by example – which is exactly what she did when she joined the race for a seat on Council.

“(When I decided to run) there were only three women of about 30 people who had put their hat in the ring,” said Councillor Hender. ” I thought, I just can’t sit back here and keep thinking someone ought to do it. I’ll do it! So I think standing up and actually putting yourself out there is one way of showing some leadership and inspiring other to do it.”

A lawyer by training, Megan has worked as a solicitor, university lecturer, law practice manager

and, since 2002, run her own city based management consulting business. She’s also a mother and commends those workplace environments which offer flexibility for professional women raising families, as well as excellent opportunities for leadership development.

“I think Local Government is a great place for women to have a go at leadership positions. I’ve learnt more from being on Council than I’ve learnt in any other role I’ve ever had and I’m much better at the other parts of my life as a consequence of being a Councillor.”

Looking ahead, Megan hopes to see gender inequality – particularly at leadership level – further reduced across all three tiers of Government as well as within the private sector, through more balanced board representation.

“I think we (women) have a long way to go in those seats of power and there’s still plenty to do, but we’re certainly on the right track.”

* City of Adelaide Employee Statistics: Female: 501 (47.6%) Male: 552 – Source: City of Adelaide, January 2017 

NB: the above video was recorded in February 2017

Skye Murtagh

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