Whose responsibility?

Caring responsibilities, not only for younger family members, but older relatives, is an issue that is emerging for employees at all councils.

In the Year of Women in Local Government, councils across Australia have been called on to raise awareness of the opportunities for, benefits of, and the need to increase the participation of women in leadership and management roles across all levels of Local Government.

At Sutherland Shire Council in southern Sydney, a wide ranging program of informal lunches, training seminars and management initiatives has been introduced to explore the theme, with some unexpected results.

“One of the most interesting issues that has emerged during discussion at the lunches is that it isn’t just mothers returning to the workforce who face the juggling act of managing work and caring responsibilities,” said Sutherland Shire Mayor Lorraine Kelly. “Many of our older female employees have also told us they need flexible working hours, either to perform the role of carer for ageing parents, or as carer for grandchildren whose parents have returned to work.

“The issue of elder care has not previously been a significant one for employees, but with our ageing population both female and male employees are increasingly performing important caring roles for other members of their family.

“Quite often a lot of emphasis is placed on workplaces being child friendly and offering mums flexible work hours to fit around child care necessities. But what we’re hearing is that we can’t forget those who may have other caring roles.”

Sutherland Shire Council is supportive of the needs of staff in caring for dependents, whether children or relatives, and offers its full time staff the opportunity to use their 15 days annual sick leave as carers leave.

Fittingly, in the Year of Women in Local Government, Sutherland ratepayers have not only seen the appointment of Australia’s first female Prime Minister and the first female Premier in New South Wales, but they are also represented locally by women. Councillor Kelly and Councillor Jan Forshaw were elected as Mayor and Deputy Mayor for a one year term in September 2009, following Councillor Kelly’s initial term as Mayor in 2008.

Both attend informal lunches that aim to capture employees’ perspectives about the issues women face in their day to day working lives. The lunches are held in different locations each time to enable discussion to take place in a casual and safe environment and comments from the lunches are noted and considered for follow up.

The Mayor said she was also pleased that Council values the contribution women can offer in decision making, which was reflected by the appointment of two senior female managers to take part in Directors meetings, following the departure of Council’s only female director late in 2009.

Council has also acknowledged and endorsed the National Framework for Women in Local Government – The Way Forward and is conducting a self assessment against the ‘Gender Matters Checklist’ to identify areas where it is effective and where improvement could be made in helping women succeed in Local Government.

In addition, to enhance its communications on women’s issues in Council, new pages have been introduced on the employee intranet including a regular staff profile series on female employees. This helps employees get to know some of their female colleagues as they share their insights into work and their personal lives.