Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister on Gender Equality and Diversity

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  • Sync NI sat down with Belfast’s first citizen, Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister, to talk about her first six months in office and her hopes for the year ahead. In this interview, Nuala discusses diversity, feminism and challenging ‘regressive’ politics...

    Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister took up the chain of office on June 1 - only the fourth female first citizen since the office of Mayor was created in 1842.  (The office of Lord Mayor was created in 1892)

    Now at the midpoint of her tenure, she’s revelling in her work.

    “I’m loving this role. I get to shout about Belfast - talk about it, sell it, showcase it and celebrate all the people that live in it. It is absolutely the best job,” she says.

    A self-described “progressive liberal and feminist”, the 28-year-old law and politics graduate is focused on promoting inclusivity and challenging some of the more “regressive” aspects of Northern Ireland politics.

    “People fear change sometimes,” she says. “I am about being open and tolerant. Yes, I am a progressive liberal and a feminist - I don't make any apologies for that. But my words do not harm others, and I don't think that the change that I want to pursue will harm others either.”

    Nuala recognises that Belfast has made positive strides as a place to live and work, but feels there is some distance yet to travel.

    “We're a bit regressive in certain areas, particularly in terms of marriage equality, and women's rights even more so. We can't have a healthy debate, for example around, abortion - something that just does not happen in Northern Ireland,” she says.

    “Why should I remain quiet or treat the subject as taboo?” she says. “We can't have that kind of conversation here in Northern Ireland and it is very frustrating.”

    At the time of her elevation, Nuala said it was her aim to promote Belfast as an open, inclusive and welcoming place to live and do business. And there has been no lack of opportunity to promote her vision.

    In August, Windsor Park - alongside Portadown, Ballymena and Lurgan - staged the 2017 UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championships. Belfast also played its part in hosting the Women's Rugby World Cup - a global event which drew 45 million views across RWC platforms. The final, which was held the Kingspan Stadium, had a terrestrial audience in the UK of 2.65 million viewers.

    “What we need to ask is ‘what legacy has that had on females in Belfast?’ It's not just the workplace that females need participation in - it's across all walks of life in society,” she says.

    On gender equality, the council has made progress. In September, Women In Business launched its Gender Diversity Charter Mark - of which Belfast City Council is a signatory.

    The charter commits organisations to set targets for advancing women into senior roles and promote gender diversity across middle management.

    The council currently has a female Lord and Deputy Lord Mayor, while Suzanne Wylie is the Chief Executive.

    “A lot of our directors and people in high positions are female so we do quite well at Belfast City Council,” she says.

    Nevertheless, Nuala feels “there aren’t enough women in leadership roles in Belfast”.  

    “While we're doing well,” says Nuala “we could strive to do better. At a citywide level, we need to engage with more younger women… that's how you target (diversity) issues long-term,” she says.

    Nuala encourages young women to be bold and confident in pursuing their ambitions.

    “At times you do need to be tough, but you always need to be compassionate too,” she says.

    Nuala encourages young people to measure their success on their happiness and “how much you feel that you're giving back to society”.

    She adds: “There’s so much to learn by helping others. I'm going out to lots of organisations and, every time I do, I’m learning more about society and Belfast.”

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