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'Chairmen' banned by East Devon District Council

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020 5:47pm

By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter

Council offices will have chairs, not chairmen

They will now be 'chairs'

There's to be a crackdown on 'sexist banter’ at East Devon District Council, which is also to end a freeze on allowances during maternity leave. The word ‘chairman’ for committee appointments is to be replaced too. In future, chairmen will be 'chairs.'

Councillors have approved pans to ‘end the sexist treatment of woman which was treated as banter’, and to end a policy that meant special allowances ceased to be paid if women were on maternity leave. The council will also introduce a new clause against sexism in the code of conduct.

Putting forward her motion, Cllr Kathy McLauchlan said that in the past, the sexist treatment of woman was treated as banter to be endured and there was no requirement for gender neutral language.

She said: “Sexism is commonplace and 38 per cent of councillors have received sexist comments in their own party. Sexism is viewed and tolerated as a part of political life, but this has to change and local government should be a safe and secure place for all. This is a chance to the right thing for current and prospective members of the council.”

Women make up just 30 per cent of councillors on East Devon District Council, below the national average of 35 per cent.

She added: “Woman make up 51 per cent of the population so we have to make working as a councillor easier for them, and the lack of maternity support is a barrier and holds them back as a councillor.”

Cllr Paul Millar, who seconded the motion, added: “Why is it fair that a woman looking after a new-born should be removed from their position? As that is what the policy states, and it deserves to be thrown into the dustbin of history never to rear its ugly head again.

“The motion seeks to empower the role of woman and younger women in local government, to encourage to take up senior positions without the fear that starting a family will see them removed from the position, as wanting to start a family should never be a disadvantage.

“This, plus the clause in the code conduct about sexism, will be a safeguard against the minority with dinosaur-like tendencies.”

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said the gendered culture as to how boys and girls are treated begins at a very early age, telling the story of how her daughter, when a toddler and was waiting to play with a garage set at a playgroup was given a doll to try and distract her by another parent.

She said: “Boys and girls go to nursery and come back thinking men are doctors and women are nurses – although my oldest daughter who is a doctor would disagree.”

In regards to calling people chair, not chairman, she added: “It may seem a minor detail to those unaffected by it but if you are a young girl and don’t see anyone like you or can relate to on a council, you will be put off applying.  To continue addressing a role as chairman is putting people off applying and a step back before a step forward.

“It’s 2020, not 1970 – you don’t get away with casual sexism anymore.”

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said that language matters, and that ‘chairman’ alienates people who are sensitive to gender and diversity issues, and for that reason alone, we must change the way we speak to people in the chamber.

Cllr Paul Hayward, deputy leader of the council, added that in 2014, before he was a council, the then leader of the council Paul Diviani referred to Claire Wright as ‘young lady’. He said: “He did in in a deregulatory, intimidating and deliberately offensive way. But it shows that it was an ingrained consult to intimidate and bully and harass and harangue.”

Cllr Sarah Jackson said the essence of the motion was trying to make it an inclusive environment for anyone considering being a councillor in the future, while Cllr Joe Whibley said that ranger than the council potentially being seen as ‘too woke’, it shows that they are a forward thinking and progressive council.

Conservative leader Cllr Andrew Moulding, said he would be supporting the motion, but that after 33 years of being a councillor and always address the person who mans the chair, as chairman, it will be difficult for him to change his ways.

He said: “But change my ways I shall do, and I apologise if I forget to call a person by an inanimate object. It will be difficult for me and it will take some getting used to but I will vote for it, and I am 100 per cent in favour of the matters around maternity, rebuking sexism, and encouraging more female councillors.”

Cllr Helen Parr added: “The most important parts of this are that we bring in proper maternity allowances and that as many women who want to stand are encouraged to and can do. It doesn’t matter to me if you call someone chair or chairman, but if people want this in the constitution, I am sure it will be agreed, but it is unimportant compared to the rest of the motion.”

The motion, which was agreed, will require members to address chairs of any committees, panels, forums or groups as the ‘chair’ rather than chairman. While the council has a policy for maternity pay for councillors without extended roles, the current allowances scheme does not extend maternity pay for councillors on a Special Responsibility Allowance, so a report will come forward as to how to adopt the Fawcett Society’s recommendation of having maternity pay for Councillors with extended roles.

The Fawcett Society’s recommendation that new clauses in the code of conduct against sexism be introduced will also be adopted, as will a commitment to ensuring gender neutral language is used across the Council in internal and external communications.

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