The Institute of Community Directors Australia is helping to cultivate the next generation of local government leaders as part of a concerted effort by the Victorian Government to redress the gender imbalance in that sector.
Scores of future women councillors gathered at Melbourne’s RACV Club for the official launch of the latest intake of the Women Leading Locally program.
The government-funded program aims to equip community leaders for public office, with the 65 women awarded fully funded training over several months comprising masterclasses in campaigning, leadership, governance and diversity, and a certificate in community leadership and governance.
Special guests at the launch included Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp, former Women Leading Locally fellow Rabecca Mphande, Respect Matters’ Colleen Furlanetto, Rainbow Local Government’s Jan Farrell and Politics in Colours’ Kat Henaway.
Ms Capp described herself as a “a huge advocate for women in local government”.
“By describing my experience campaigning to become lord mayor, I hope I was able to encourage more women to put their hand up.
“I often say that being the lord mayor of Melbourne is the best job I’ve ever had.”
The lord mayor said it was “a privilege” to gain insights from so many strong women.
“I was inspired by all the participants, many of whom shared with me their passion and drive,” she said.
Ms Capp said she was hopeful that women embarking on the program did feel empowered to run for office.
“As a community, we must continue uplifting women, especially in local government, to ensure women continue closing the gender gap in workplaces and beyond.
“I am inspired by the women I spoke to at this event, and know that the future of local government is in very good hands.”
Other attendees described the in-person networking and training event as “inspiring, empowering and nerve-wracking” as the reality of running for office began to hit home.
Women Leading Locally past fellow Rabecca Mphande is typical of the women who joined the program with extensive life and professional experience but faced barriers in considering public office.
Ms Mphande, heavily involved in teaching and helping African-Australian groups over many years, described the program as “a haven for all aspiring women leaders”, and one for women who wanted to reshape councils to become “just, fair, and inclusive of trust”.
She said that like many incoming fellows, she had been motivated to apply for the fellowship by stories of “unfairness, exclusion, injustices, discrimination and reduced trust due to inequitable distribution of resources”, especially in CALD communities and for women of colour.
She said the program – including its mentoring components –complemented and deepened her existing skills and knowledge but also highlighted the need to “stay open [and] have options” when it came to her planned election campaign strategies.
The women who have undertaken the program over the past two years are expected to be well represented in the 2024 local government elections, as part of a Victorian Government policy to strive for a 50/50 gender split.
The program has attracted a diverse array of women with a passion for their community, including young people, First Nations representatives, women with disability, women from diverse cultural and linguistic groups, and people identifying as LGBTIQ+.
“This program is changing the face of local government,” ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner said.