‘I was once told only men can do tough council jobs – now I’m CEO’

September 14, 2015 by in category I'm Not John tagged as with 0 and 5
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Donna Hall, Wigan Council Chief Executive and advocate of gender equality through spearheading the council’s #BelieveInHer campaign, shares her lessons learnt throughout her career:

I think the biggest challenge is being accepted as a female leader by some people who expect you to be there to make the tea. One of the funniest moments was when I went to pick up a developer from reception for a meeting with him and he handed me his coat!

There is a danger of getting used to and just putting up with the everyday sexism that we all experience and I make a point of highlighting it. The most irritating aspect of being a female leader is making a point clearly in a meeting and being ignored and then a male colleague makes the same point (he stole from me) andĀ he receivesĀ a pat on the back. How annoying!

The most memorable experience as a female leader was attending the Inspiring Women awards and winning most inspiring woman in the public sector. I was genuinely gobsmacked! I was also really proud when I took my mum and my girls to collect my CBE at Buckingham Palace for services to local government.

I think it is much tougher for women to get to the top. You are judged much more harshly than your male colleagues. A senior colleague who is incredibly bright and inspirational was told by her (male) boss that she should not wear cardigans for work! Another equally bright chief executive in her performance appraisal was told that she should stop wearing trousers and start wearing skirts! Could you imagine anyone giving this feedback to a man.

I think it is particularly tough for younger women. When I was about 25 I was once told the reason I was overlooked for promotion was because I was likely to go off and have a baby and a female councilor once told me I should not have a senior job (Executive Director) in a council as only men can do really tough jobs like this.

The best bit about my job is making a real difference to communities and people’s lives. I love mentoring and supporting young people to get on in their chosen careers.


My coping strategy has always been:

  • Challenge in a nice way but always challenge everyday sexism.
  • Defeat prejudice through the power of ideas and positivity.
  • Move quickly from talk to action.
  • Surround yourself with can do people who will challenge your ideas as well as those of the organisation.
  • Listen to people really really hard.
  • Understand that prejudice is another form of fear.

Inspired by Donna’s story? Get involved in the #Imnotjohn campaign.

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