'There's a huge reward to this work'

With women accounting for just 30 percent of local government representatives, there’s plenty of space for more. Nominations for the 2016 local body elections are open from 15 July until 12 August - so there’s still time to stand, or encourage a woman you know to do so. The elections themselves are on 8 October. 

Six women currently involved in local government share what they’ve learned from their experiences.

Recognise your strengths

Bonita Bigham is a South Taranaki district councillor. She is currently serving her second term on Te Maruata, Local Government New Zealand’s national council of Maori elected members, which she chairs. She has previously served on marae committees, whanau trusts, iwi and hapu organisations, sports clubs and school boards of trustees.

"When I put my hand up, I think ‘can I contribute? What skills have I got that can make a difference to this organisation?’,” she says.

“Often people want to go in and change the world, but you need to approach these roles with a wider perspective. That’s why women are really good, we do things for the long haul, we think about the future.”

Stick to your guns

Porirua City councillor Bronwyn Kropp was just 19 when she first sought election in 2010, frustrated by the lack of young people on the council and the strategic direction it was taking.

She says the resistance she met with while campaigning prepared her for dealing with difficult people when on the council.

“People will criticise you no matter what, so just stick to your guns and keep smiling through it all.” 

Don’t sit on the fence

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, former head of the Women’s Refuge, is now on the Rotorua Lakes Council and the Lakes District Health Board.

“Citizens expect you to have an opinion and [to] be prepared to state it. No sitting on the fence,” she says.

“You must make the time to do your reading and obviously turn up to most, if not all, meetings. The face that is seen is the face that is remembered.”

Be authentic

Celia Wade-Brown spent nine years as a Wellington city councillor before being elected to the mayoralty in 2010.

“Be authentic, positive and connect with as wide a section of the public as possible,” she says

“Remember you can’t change what people say [about you], but you are in control of your reaction.”

Look after yourself

Steve Chadwick was elected mayor of Rotorua in 2013, after more than a decade in central government. She is the first woman to be the city’s mayor.

“Set your own systems in place to look after yourself once you are elected,” she says.

“Eat well and try to keep fit. Keep a sense of humour and value your dear friends!”

Remember why you’re there

Claire Barlow was the receptionist at Fairlie District Council when she stood for mayor in 2010. Her election - and subsequent re-election in 2013 - ruffled many feathers.

“There were times when I thought ’why am I doing this?’ and it was really hard, but my sense of responsibility to the community was always stronger than my own feelings,” she says.

“There’s a huge reward to doing this work. Even if people don’t respect you personally, they respect the position, then they get to know you and they do respect you. People invite you into their lives, their homes, their businesses, and it’s a privilege to be able to help.”

 Click here to find out more about standing for election in 2016.