Unfortunately the City Corporation was this week in the news again with media reporting on a ridiculous row gender titles within the City with one male councillor reported to “throwing his toys out of the pram” and demanding he was referred to as “chairwoman” after the organisation’s most senior politician Catherine McGuinness requested that she be referred to as “chair” of the policy and resources committee, as opposed to the conventional title of “chairman”.

This discussion followed after a number of recommendations put forward by the Corporation’s diversity working party of which I am a member.

One of our recommendations was to move away from the title of chairman to chair, while still allowing members to be called chairman if they wished. This is normal practice elsewhere and I have to say I was surprised that this caused such an issue for some members.

The CEO (Town Clerk) rightly stated that this is about promoting and fostering relationships and there was a reputational risk. Adding that the use of the title chairwoman by a man could be seen to diminish the role of women.

My fellow councillor Catherine McGuinness told City A.M. “Frankly this is a storm in a tea cup which we should not be wasting time on during this critical moment for the City and the United Kingdom.

“Chair is now a standard term of address in public life and has been for a long time. No-one is being forced to use this title.

“Elected members are being given a choice as a small part of our efforts to become more inclusive of the communities that we serve in the Square Mile and beyond.”

Why targets matter

This week we also had a discussion on two other papers from the diversity working party. One to highlight to members when they vote on appointments to committees what the diversity make up is if the relevant committee – to encourage people to take this into account in their considerations. And another for the Corporation to set targets to get a more diverse range of candidates to stand for elections in the City.

As representative of the diversity working party I presented the case for both recommendations. The ‘nudge’ on internal committee ballot papers was approved by policy and resources, but the suggestion of targets proved more controversial.

In the discussion at the committee I pointed out that these targets were an expression of intend, rather than a quota. Ultimately it’s the electorate who decides who gets elected. But I strongly believe it’s important we should proactively promote a more diverse group of candidates to put themselves forward for elections to ensure the council better reflects the City workers, residents and businesses we serve.

To put things in context on average 42% of residents and workers in the City are women, but only 23% of councillors are women; 22% of residents and workers are from BAME background, against 7% of the number of councillors, and 61% are of residents and workers are between ages 20-39 versus 17% of councillors.

At the meeting members were asked to approve the targets set out for representation by 2021 election (i.e. 30% women and 15% BAME) and targets for 2025 for Common Councilmen and Aldermen to be reflective of the demographics of City workers/residents.

A couple of councillors indicated that they would be more comfortable in setting an ‘aspiration’ rather than ‘targets’. But if the Commonwealth or business community are comfortable in setting a target of 30% for representation of women surely it isn’t too much to ask for us to match or improve this? Targets focuses the mind.

The diversiy working party considered “the merits of the introduction of both quotas and targets and whilst it was of the view that the use
of quotas would be very challenging it felt that setting public targets was less so and was worth pursuing providing it was dealt with
in a measured way.”

The policy and resources committee clarified that “any targets to be set in respect of the Court should be in relation to candidacy only” as it “was for the electorate to determine who they wished to elect. Focus should therefore be on working to ensure that the electorate had a wide and diverse pool of candidates from which to choose.”

I am hopeful we can find a resolution and get real progress at the next meeting in March, because it is important we firmly state our intend and take positive actions to ensure the Court of Common Council better reflects the City we represent.

To be continued…

Photo is from card produced for the Fawcett Society – check here