All-female team thought to be NZ first

Central Otago District Council executive team members (from left) Leanne Macdonald, Louise van...
Central Otago District Council executive team members (from left) Leanne Macdonald, Louise van der Voort, Saskia Righarts, Sanchia Jacobs, Julie Muir and Louise Fleck reflect on the future of their modern-day council. PHOTO: PAM JONES
Six women at the Central Otago District Council are believed to have scored a New Zealand first by making up the first council to have an all-female executive team.

But the women, and others in the sector, say they look forward to a time when the gender of those at the top no longer warrants attention.

"Of course, barely an eyebrow is raised when there is an all-male senior leadership team or, more commonly, a team of five men and a single woman," Society of Local Government Managers vice-president Dr Sue Bidrose said.

"Similarly, it'll be great when a team full of competent, qualified senior women doesn't cause a second glance."

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan agreed, saying, "I look forward to the day when stories like this are normal, not newsworthy. It is only then that we can say equality has truly been achieved."

Dr Bidrose said the Central Otago council was the only one in New Zealand at present to have an all-female executive team, and this was thought to be a New Zealand first.

The "clean sweep" comes from the recent appointments of executive manager corporate services Leanne Macdonald and executive manager people and culture Louise Fleck.

Chief executive Sanchia Jacobs is in her second year at the council, chief adviser Dr Saskia Righarts was appointed last year and executive manager planning and environment Louise van der Voort and executive manager infrastructure services Julie Muir have held their Central Otago roles for many years.

The women said that, although the Central Otago council had an all-female executive team, gender did not matter when it came to appointments. Quite simply, the best person should be chosen for the job.

"We never should appoint purely on gender," Mrs Macdonald said.

"Soft skills and hard skills, and what is best for council, which is ultimately what is best for the ratepayer, should always prevail."

Ms Jacobs said the all-female Central Otago team was significant "only in that it is unusual - it is far more common to see an all-male executive, and in fact, until recent times that wouldn't have even been queried".

"Perhaps the other aspect of significance is that it shows more and more women are putting their hands up, and capable of achieving high-level executive roles.

"My view is that diversity is very important to high-quality outcomes - in an ideal world you'll have a variety of ages, gender, sexualities, ethnicities and world experience around the table."

The women encouraged all to aim high and keep seizing opportunities.

"One of the biggest barriers to success is thinking you are not qualified or experienced enough to go for promotion," Dr Righarts said.

"Jump in there and back yourself; you may suffer a few knocks on the way but don't let it stop you from getting to get where you want to go."

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