Suffragette100: Council’s CEO has faced discrimination head-on to take top job

PUBLISHED: 09:07 14 February 2018

Jenny Wallace, head of paid services at Torridge District Council.

Jenny Wallace, head of paid services at Torridge District Council.

Archant

In the next in our series to celebrate 100 years since women won the right to vote, Torridge District Council’s head of paid services talks about the challenges she has faced.

Jenny Wallace may have the top job at Torridge District Council, but she’s had to fight gender stereotyping and discrimination to get there.

Mrs Wallace studied Business Studies at North Devon College, before starting in a general administration role at North Devon Council.

She then moved into finance, specialising in accountancy, before moving to Torridge District Council.

Progressing to a senior accountant, Mrs Wallace was promoted to head of financial services, then to strategic director, before taking up her current position as head of paid service (CEO).

What challenges have you faced both professionally and personally?

Studying for my accountancy qualification while working full-time and returning to work after the birth of my daughter was tough.

In the 1980s it wasn’t easy to return to work and childcare facilities were sparse, but my daughter was looked after by family.

There were few concessions for mothers returning to work and I definitely experienced comments from male colleagues about a woman’s place.

I have been lucky to have a husband and family that supported me and encouraged me to reach my full potential.

Do you think there are still challenges due to gender?

I do think there are still challenges but nothing like the position in my early career.

There are still instances where men feel uncomfortable reporting to a woman manager. I often attend meetings that are very much male dominated and sometimes I’m the only woman there.

Are there as many opportunities for women as men, and has this changed since you first entered into your profession?

In local government I would say that women do now have the same opportunities as men and are more accepted now in the technical professions.

Is there a gender pay gap?

In Torridge we have an accredited job evaluation scheme to ensure that the equality legislation is complied with. We also adhere to the national terms and conditions for local government pay.

What advice would you give your younger self in terms of career, life, etc?

Be more confident and don’t be afraid to aim high. Never underestimate what you can achieve and don’t undersell your abilities and recognise that you are a person and not a stereotyped gender.

Do you use your right to vote, and why/why not?

As the returning officer at Torridge, I am responsible for organising and running all local and national elections as well as the recent referendum.

I realise the importance of the vote – if you don’t vote, you can’t then complain about who is elected or the result of any referenda.

The suffragettes sacrificed a lot to earn this right and 
we owe it to them to use our vote.

What’s the best thing about being a woman in 2018?

More acceptance of your freedom to choose what and who you want to be – not just someone’s wife or mother, but an individual and equally important person.

Have you ever faced discrimination or harassment in the workplace or outside of work because of your gender?

Sadly yes. After one promotion, I attended a meeting and was the only woman there. The men in the room assumed I was there to collect the empty coffee cups.

I have also been ignored when trying to speak at meetings.

Even in recent years, I have had men trying to intimidate me but I am quite tall so I now wear my highest heels and look them straight in the eye and don’t back down.

In the past I’ve also been told that a woman’s place is at home in the kitchen, seriously!

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