Chamber sat down with Chief Officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, Jackie Weaver, to discuss the challenges of women in local government and her experience following the viral Handforth Council meeting.
What was it that got you involved in local government?
“I don’t think my journey is unique. I got involved in my local council around 27 years ago because, like many people, I felt a sense of injustice. Something wasn’t right and I wanted to fix it.”
“The job of Parish Clerk came up when I was a mother with young children, but I didn’t get the job. That wasn’t the injustice, my ego could stand the fact that there was a better candidate. But the job was given to the Chairman’s wife and I thought, this isn’t right.”
What are the biggest challenges you have faced personally in local government?
“I don’t think I’ve faced any unique challenges but as a young mother with three small children, time was always an issue. Of course, council meetings are not held at family-friendly times, which is always a challenge for women looking after a family.”
“The other challenge in a rural parish was farming, which is a very tight and strong community. If you didn’t come from that community, you were definitely seen as an outsider. Combining that sense of not belonging with household pressures was a real challenge.”
Councils and local government are often overlooked, despite performing vital services to communities. What improvements do you think could be made to maximise the impact of local government?
“What I’ve seen over a thirty-year career in local government, is that a lot has changed, and I think it’s helpful to look back at that perspective. However, you don’t have to go as far back as that to see change happening, particularly in Cheshire.”
“We previously had a much larger infrastructure of local government, which has now been condensed over the years. The local authority now only delivers what it has a statutory obligation to deliver. Town and parish councils are now delivering lots of the community work that has been lost.”
How have you dealt with the fallout of the infamous video and becoming a champion for women in local government?
“Interestingly, I don’t see myself as a champion. I guess the video itself spoke to a surprisingly large number of people beyond local government. For women who are in any kind of hierarchical situation such as the legal profession, in schools, in the voluntary sector¾those dynamics are played out every day and I think that resonated with them. What was perhaps unique about that night was that it was captured, so it showed you can take control of situations without being as aggressive and unpleasant as the people on the other side.”
The video highlighted chauvinism and discrimination that exist at all levels of government. What has your experience been like as a woman in local government?
“It’s very interesting to me to talk with other people about their experiences. I’m probably seen as a big fish in a small pond but my experiences carry no more weight than other women.”
“In my experience, I think it’s worth thinking about the differences between how men and women communicate, I don’t think we always acknowledge that. My experience isn’t a universal truth, and this doesn’t apply to every man on the planet, but many men only have one way of communicating. If that doesn’t work, they only voice their opinions louder.”
“However, we could talk about how we are going to change the other person from here to Christendom. Or in the alternative, we can look at what we’re doing ourselves to see if we can get a better result”.