Leaderful Women in Local Government

A major part of my work at Tribe is developing the potential of executives and governance across sectors who represent the ‘new New Zealand.’ A partner in this work is Dr Sue Watson who is the Co-founder of Leaderful. Rather than me comment on the development of women’s leadership in local government, I spoke to Sue. Leaderful works to increase the number and diversity of women leading for Aotearoa.

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Do you think women leaders in local government face particular challenges?

Dr Sue Watson - Leaderful

“Yes. We know that women who work in the public sphere are highly likely to experience more harassment and bullying than men, whether they are elected representatives or local government employees. This is even greater for wāhine Māori, ethnically diverse women and LGBTQ women. This is where male allies can take a powerful role by standing with and up for their female colleagues.

Women in the workforce, regardless of the sector, also continue to take a disproportionate share of the whānau and community responsibilities.

Hybrid working has increased as a result of the pandemic and while the increased flexibility has benefited some women, we know that many women’s wellbeing has been negatively impacted. Women leaders are more likely to experience high levels of burn-out compared to their male peers.”  


Women elected members made up about 39% in 2019 and are increasing. Should that be higher and what might be the benefits?

“Yes. We need to continue encouraging and supporting women to stand for local government to ensure our elected representatives are just that - representative of the communities they serve. The benefits are many and well evidenced now. Of particular importance to local government are improved quality of decision-making; greater constituency engagement and insights; an increase in organisational health leading to improved talent attraction and retention and importantly, strengthening licence to operate.”


What is the case for increasing women executives of leadership teams?

“I think there are three main cases to be made. The first is that it is the right thing to do. Women are as well-educated, qualified and capable as men, so we need them at the leadership table alongside men. Secondly, there are well-evidenced business benefits that result from gender diverse leadership teams. Recently released research from Champions for Change in Aotearoa stated that executive teams that were gender diverse were 25% more likely to have above average profitability than those with low diversity. Thirdly, organisational culture improves and so does employee wellbeing and satisfaction.”  


Sue, you coach a lot of women executives, so how would you suggest they get professional development?

“I recommend women executives begin by considering two questions: what do I think are my development needs and what does the organisation need from me as a leader? That helps executives take a strategic approach and to identify a matrix of opportunities to support their ongoing development. I am a big advocate for the benefits of a coach who can provide a confidential sounding board, challenge your thinking and provide insights and challenge to support you as a person and as a leader.”


Thank you to Dr Sue Watson for her insights. At the beginning of this article I used the term ‘new New Zealand.’ For me this captures 2022 Aotearoa rich in the values of diversity, representativeness, innovation, agility and our bicultural and multicultural journey. We see it as our mission to search our country for talent with the right capabilities, and the diversity of our new New Zealand for your teams.


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With 20+ years experience within board and executive search, David Hammond's approach to search will challenge the status quo while elevating your leadership team. Get in touch with David for a confidential chat on +64 27 444 6368



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