One of our readers, while participating in a sit-in at Dublin City Council, noticed something about the people working there, and asked us about it.
“All I saw was willowy, tall, male executives with silver hair. Where are the women?” asked Zoe Obeimhen. (She also asked about minorities and people with disabilities, but one thing at a time.)
Was Obeimhen’s observation correct – is it mostly men running the council? Well, yes.
Of the total number of people the council employs, 4,004 are male (70 percent), and 1,745 are female (30 percent), according to a spokesperson for the council’s press office.
And that same ratio is reflected in the council’s senior management, which includes 24 men (69 percent) and 11 women (31 percent), the spokesperson said.
Labour Councillor Mary Freehill said she’d set up a working group in the past “to focus on fair and equal advancement opportunities” for women working for the council.
“I have to confess that I thought we had come a long way,” Freehill said, after seeing these figures from the council. “Your figures are startling and I will certainly take it up again.”
What’s Going On?
So what’s going on here, why is Dublin City Council staffed and run overwhelmingly by men?
Does the council hire approximately equal numbers of men and women? “Dublin City Council is an equal opportunities employer and all recruitment operates on that basis,” the council spokesperson said.
Are women more likely than men to leave employment with Dublin City Council? “There is no evidence to suggest women are more likely to leave employment with Dublin City Council,” the spokesperson said.
“We do however have a number of operational roles which are traditionally male dominated, and which results in an imbalance in some grades,” the spokesperson said.
This is something Freehill also raised. “Many of the posts were in the fire brigade and outdoor trades which I expect there would be less women,” she said.
A 2008 report found that Dublin City Council employed almost 3,000 general operatives – who are generally outdoor manual workers in waste management, parks, road maintenance and similar activities – and almost 1,000 fire-brigade personnel. “These occupations are made up of 12 per cent and 3 per cent women respectively,” it said.
These traditionally male-dominated roles still make up the majority of posts at the council, according to a more recent council report.
In 2016, the council employed 5,311 whole-time equivalents (WTEs). Of those, 3,134 (59 percent) were outdoor or fire-fighter jobs.
The 2008 report showed that women dominated the lower “administrative grades” at the council, accounting for about 60 percent of staff at that level.
But the trend reversed at the higher administrative grades, where men held about 70 percent of posts. In 2016, 1,657 WTEs (30 percent) at the council were classed as “clerical/admin”.
The 2008 report showed that men also dominated the “professional grades” – holding about 70 percent of posts there. In 2016, some 9 percent of WTEs at the council were classed as “Prof/Technical”.
A spokesperson said that figures for the average pay of men and women employed by Dublin City Council were “not readily available”.
In 2017, the IMPACT trade union released a report authored by Camille Loftus titled “What gets measured gets managed: gender (in)equality in the local government sector”.
According to that report, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government had “recently committed publishing a gender analysis by grade in each local authority later this year, and on an annual basis thereafter”.
A spokesperson for the department was unable to provide a copy of the gender breakdowns across local authorities. “We are currently working with the sector with a view to making this data publicly available as soon as possible,” he said.
What Is to Be Done?
“It’s the nature of the work so it’s not an equal-opportunities issue,” says Marie Sherlock, who works with the research department at the trade union SIPTU.
In other words, its not that women are actively discouraged from applying for this work.
One way forward might be some kind of general awareness campaign to try to attract women, and those from other backgrounds, into these jobs, she says.
“There probably needs to be encouragement of women to consider fire-fighting as a career,” says Sherlock.
It’s about unpicking stereotypes about roles for men and women, says Catherine Lane, the Women and Local Government and Development Officer, at the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI).
That’s something that SOLAS, the further-education agency, has been working on for apprenticeship schemes, she says.
“It goes back to how you are communicating to girls or women,” she says. “It needs a specific targeted approach.”
So, that could mean a campaign that includes images of women working in these jobs and invites them directly to apply, she said. “Being much more proactive around that.”
She and others at NWCI are trying to encourage local authorities to sign up to the European Union’s charter for the equality of men and women in local life.
When public-sector bodies hire new workers, they tend to try to run a campaign that is for everybody, she says. “But they haven’t actually looked at, well, what are the different realities for women or men? And why is it different for women you know getting into these types of occupations?”