The World's First Equal City for Men and Women

Mayors have the power to be a source of great political change and leadership, writes Polly Mackenzie, so why not set them the task of designing their cities to deliver gender equality?

A few weeks ago, the Mayors of England’s big cities outside London gathered for a photoshoot in Birmingham. Five white men, with two white men memorialised in paintings behind them. It’s a crying shame that the renewal of civic ambition represented by the creation of these Mayoral posts hasn’t given opportunities for women to lead our great cities. But the move to Mayors can still be a shift that transforms women’s lives – if our city leaders are ready to take on the challenge of building gender equality into their mission.

If you look at examples around the world, Mayors can be the source of massive political change and leadership. They have a unique status, combining direct control over the levers of local government – relatively limited in the UK examples – with a public profile and bully pulpit which gives them the capability of delivering huge cultural and economic change. So it’s well within the mission of any one of those Mayors – or Sadiq Khan, in London – to decide to make his city the first in the world that is equal for men and women. And it’s well within their capability to get it done.

What would it take to make a city equal for men and women?

In 2010, Demos launched a Good Growth Index, in partnership with PWC, which identified what citizens wanted to see from growth in their area. It’s now published every year, to give a rich and deep understanding of the way growth, place by place, is improving lives. It’s a valuable tool for civic leaders ambitious about growth, enabling them to build economic strategies that deliver the changes people want, whether that’s inclusivity, work-life balance or community prosperity.

Building on that success, at Demos we’re working to construct an index of equality for men and women. It will help Mayors to understand where they are, at city level, on gender equality – and what they can do to make further progress.

The index will need to look at the gender pay gap, of course. The media have been covering company-by-company announcements on gender pay. But we’ve been collecting the data on gender pay by place for decades without using it to motivate our leaders into action. We should be ranking our cities on their pay gap and agitating for progress from our Mayors. At a national level, women are 51 per cent of the population, but they only take home a third of the wages. What are the numbers for Birmingham? For Manchester? We need to know.

There’s so much more to gender equality than pay. We need equal parenting and care, so men and women share both the joys and burdens of raising children and caring for the elderly. An equal city would have decently funded childcare, accessible to all. An equal city would support shared parental leave with equal rights for men and women – in the public sector and beyond. And an equal city would have nappy changing facilities in men’s and women’s toilets. It might seem trivial, but these kind of changes matter, and could be driven forward by ambitious, campaigning Mayors.

Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of the power gap between the genders. An equal city would have ambitious policing, public safety and education campaigns working to eradicate violence against women and girls, so no one is victimised as a result of their gender.

A Mayor who wanted to lead an equal city would take a leadership role themselves. Public appointments would be 50-50; there would be no gender pay gap at City Hall.

I’m confident that if we can build a high-quality, high-profile index of gender equality, which becomes a kind of ‘league table’ for our city leaders, we can inspire one or all of them to set this kind of ambition. Women are a powerful force in politics. But it isn’t just women who’d benefit from gender equality: when women achieve their potential, the whole of society will benefit. So I believe a Mayor who set his cap in the direction of equality would reap a substantial political dividend, as well as improving lives.

Demos believes good quality research and policy-making is the way to secure change in our society. Collecting and collating data on gender equality is just one example of the way transparency can be used to fuel ambition and inspire transformation. Let’s not settle for the world we find frustrating – let’s set about changing it.



At Demos, we’d love to hear from partners interested in working with us on this index of equality for men and women, and anyone with ideas about the data we should be including, and how to gather it. Please get in touch.