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The Missing Cohort: Women in Local Government in Australia
Australia historically lags behind other democracies on its record of gender participation across its three tiers of government. In recent years, some local governments have outperformed federal and state tiers with Victorian councils reaching a record 43.8 per cent of women elected in 2020, placing it among the top 15 per cent of countries in the world. This paper examines local government as a workplace with a focus on the gender gap. This ARC-funded project combines official figures with Victorian candidate and councillor survey data (fielded before and after the 2020 elections) and qualitative interviews to investigate factors that hinder closing the political gender divide. The results reveal a positive story about women’s electability – despite fewer women running for office their success rate is higher than men. However, the data also shows a missing cohort of younger women. Paid full-time work, childrearing, and household responsibilities are key barriers to elected office for younger women compared to men. These findings affirm international studies that show younger women are less well represented in local government than male counterparts or older women outside their reproductive years. This study makes recommendations to narrow the gender gap to enable the Victorian Government to achieve its target of gender parity in local government by 2025.