WE like to think we live in more enlightened times, but women in management roles and workers from minority ethnic backgrounds are still under-represented on Sussex councils. NEIL VOWLES reports on what is being done and what needs to be done to ensure councils more accurately reflect the societies they serve.

COUNCILS will fail to meet the needs of their residents if they do not fully represent their communities in their work- forces, according to civil rights campaigners.

Local authorities need to reflect the ethnic diversity of the communities they serve, claim campaign groups, after an investigation by The Argus revealed black and minority ethnic groups are under-represented in some Sussex council workforces.

The Argus study also found the high proportion of female workers in the local government public sector was not reflected in the number of women in management roles.

Many of the councils contacted by The Argus admitted they have work to do to improve “imbalances” within their work-forces.

Ten of the 12 councils which responded to Freedom of Information requests by The Argus had a lower percentage of women in management roles than in their workforce overall.

In some cases The Argus uncovered huge discrepancies, including at Arun District Council where 60% of workers are female but make up just 37% of management.

Jackie Follis, head of human resources and customer services at Arun District Council, said: “We have robust human resources policies in place, covering recruitment, working practice and training that supports all our staff.

“We are also in the last stages of approving an additional Equality and Action plan for our employees that should be in place later this year.”

A similar inconsistency can be found at Eastbourne Borough Council where a work-force made up of 60% women has only got 38% in management roles.

Becky Cooke, strategic organisational development manager at Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “We recognise the value in having a representative gender balance at management levels and regularly review arrangements for recruitment and selection, career development and promotion to ensure there is equality of opportunity in terms of access to and consideration for senior roles within the organisation.

“A workforce audit in 2013 found a gender imbalance in our senior management positions, however, there was no evidence that this was attributable to direct or indirect discrimination in our processes or decision making.”

She added “careful consideration” has been given to improving recruitment processes to include reviewing support and development for women aged over 40 who work part-time and/or on maternity leave. Daisy Sands, head of policy at equality campaign group The Fawcett Society, said nationally more than three quarters of local government workers were female but made up less than a quarter of senior management.

The public sector marginally outperforms the private sector – only 20% of directors at FTSE 100 companies are women.

Sussex’s local authorities perform better than the national average, where women occupy just 35% of all managerial roles in both the private and public sectors. Ms Sands said female pay and rank followed their male equivalents until they became parents, where the “lag comes in”.

She said The Fawcett Society would like to see local authorities advertise flexible working in all adverts for vacant posts.

On a national level, the group would also like to see a comprehensive overhaul of child-care options to provide high-quality and affordable care for all.

The society would also like to see the Government enact a piece of legislation from the Equalities Act immediately which will force large employers to publish the levels of pay in their organisation.

More positively, the proportion of women working in management has increased at eight authorities since 2009 despite significant cost savings.

Horsham has seen the biggest increase in female management over the past five years from 39% to 50%.

But Lewes District Council had the biggest slump, with female management dropping from 56% to 47% even though the number of management roles increased by 23 during that time – including the appointment of female chief executive in Jenny Rowlands in 2010.

Despite cuts to government funding over the past five years, the number of management roles have increased at three authorities – Horsham and Lewes district councils and Brighton and Hove City Council, where 60% of staff are female and 63% of management is made up of women, including chief executive Penny Thompson.

Leatham Green is assistant director for personnel and training for East Sussex County Council where three-quarters of staff are female and more than 60% of management is female, including chief executive Becky Shaw.

He said the fact that a high proportion of managerial positions were filled by women is a “very positive sign of a significant shift”.

He said that the female to male balance is “skewed” because of the high number of women in support and non-managerial roles such as care workers and library assistants.

He added: “All our female leaders and managers got where they are on merit, not because of any kind of affirmative action, and I firmly believe that when it comes to appointing managers it should not be about fulfilling quotas but appointing the best person for the job, regardless of whether they’re male or female, and creating an environment where people have the flexibility to develop their career and achieve their full potential.”

THE population of ethnic minorities in society is not reflected in the corridors of power.

While more than one in ten residents in Brighton and Hove describe themselves as black and minority ethnic (BME) according to the last census, just half that number, 5%, are represented in the city council’s work- force.

Crawley Borough Council has an even higher discrepancy where more than one in five of the population is BME but just one in 14 of the council’s workforce class themselves as black or an ethnic minority.

BME advocate group Voice 4 Change has criticised the lack of ethnic minority representation at Sussex councils and claimed it affects how authorities meet the needs of residents.

The group’s policy director Lester Holloway has warned this discrepancy will only increase with ever-increasing devolution of powers down to a more localised level which may end up rewarding those who “shout the loudest and attend meetings”, marginalising other communities and further adding “unconscious biases into the system”.

Mr Holloway said local authorities should increase their use of public sector equality duty, obliging public bodies to positively promote equality rather than just avoiding discrimination, and not just as a “box-ticking exercise”.

He added: “It is extremely disappointing that local government in Crawley and Brighton have this under representation.

“Local authorities need to reflect local communities not only in the services they provide but in who provides them as well.

“At a policy and decision-making level, there needs to be an understanding of the particular nuisances of different communities for services to be effective.”

A spokesman Brighton and Hove City Council said: “We are committed to continuing to address the challenging and constructive issues our monitoring data reveals and acknowledge there is work to be done.

“We have an organisational development action plan in place to support the improvement activity we have committed to.

“We work with the local BME communities and partners to address issues raised and our goal is to improve the organisation – both as a local employer and provider of local services.”

Four councils have no black or minority management at all – Rother, Worthing and Adur, Chichester or Mid Sussex. A Rother District Council spokeswoman said: “A diverse workforce is important, but we must always balance this with employing the people who are best for the job regardless of gender, ethnicity and age.”