Women in power
North Sydney Mayor – Jilly Gibson
Following on from Genia McCaffrey, North Sydney’s longest serving, and only the second female Mayor, Jilly Gibson transitioned into the top job from long serving councillor in 2012. Cr Gibson was surprised to learn that North Sydney Council “really did not expect a woman to be elected to the role of Mayor”, with one of her first duties being to order a mayoral robe.
“I tried on the only robe that they had at the time, and it absolutely swamped me. There was no way I could wear it,” Mayor Gibson recalls.
In addition to ill-fitting Robes, Cr Gibson has previously felt the brunt of persistent internal opposition to her leadership, largely from her male colleagues.
One in particular “would not accept that a woman could be the mayor”, with Cr Gibson describing them as “extraordinarily disrespectful and rude at every opportunity” and adding that this “misogynistic” attitude has previously taken the shape of name calling and public denigration.
But with 60 per cent female representation amongst councillors, a new balance of power is now evident at North Sydney Council, and there are more women putting their hand up for state level government positions as well.
Referring to Felicity Wilson’s “tenacious” defence of her North Sydney seat during the 2017 pre selections, Cr Gibson says it was a “big win for women, and every time a woman is elected to a position of authority, or power, it paves the way for other younger women”.
Willoughby Mayor – Gail Giles-Gidney
At neighbouring Willoughby City Council, we also see a strong representation of women at a senior level: “We’ve got a good track record here of having [female] representation at councillor level,” Mayor Giles-Gidney proudly confirms.
Incumbent for almost six years, Cr Giles-Gidney is only the second popularly elected mayor of Willoughby City. Working alongside female councillors such as Judith Rutherford, who has served for more than 20 years, and CEO Deborah Just, it is Cr Giles-Gidney’s hope that their example will inspire more women to stand.
“I think historically women have been a little bit...concerned around their ability to serve, particularly when they’re child rearing”, she tells North Shore Living. A challenge she herself faced earlier in her career.
In their endeavour to make it more possible for women to stand, Willoughby Council has proactively added more flexibility into the role of a councillor with the transition of full council meetings from fortnightly to monthly, and increased opportunities to engage with the community through pop up stalls and social media.
“I think it’s really just planting the seed for women that a political career is an option for them,” she considers.
Cr Giles-Gidney also sees the importance of mentoring women who are considering a role in office.
“Women in general are not as confident to take the next step and need to be encouraged a little bit more,” she says.
Cr Giles-Gidney’s contribution to women’s equality in the workplace extends to the foundation of a Chinese women’s network Pink Elite, an organisation established to empower women in business.
Mosman Mayor – Carolyn Corrigan
Former nurse Carolyn Corrigan, and current incumbent at Mosman Council believes there is definitely a positive swing towards more female leadership in her community, believing that women in Mosman “very much stand up for their rights”.
She adds that it’s “era changing and empowering to stand beside Federal member Zali Steggal and State Member Felicity Wilson at official functions”.
Cr Corrigan also inspires young residents through the council’s youth service and works with the Youth of the Year program, which for the past three years has been awarded to young women.
In addition to attending Local Government NSW’s International Women’s Day lunch in March, Cr Corrigan will be at Mosman Council’s breakfast event, which she has proudly hosted since 2005, and which was honoured at last year’s event by the attendance of Dame Marie Bashir who delivered a “memorable and inspiring talk about her long and impressive public life”.