When Sigal Moran, head of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council in the northern Negev, saw the Interior Ministry directive instructing local authorities to appoint at least one woman on the panel of judges for the Outstanding Worker Award, she couldn't help but laugh.

"Our problem is finding a man to sit on the panel," she said.

Women make up the majority of the Bnei Shimon council's executive members and staff. Thirteen of the council's 18 senior workers - department and division heads - are women. Only 14 of the council's 70 employees are men.

"We didn't set out to appoint mostly women on the council, things just happened. When the head of the council is a woman, it probably contributes to this state of affairs," Moran says.

When Moran entered office some three years ago, even her voters had difficulty believing she could stand up to the area's mayors, who were seasoned politicians. But in a short time she was dubbed "the iron lady" by her staff.

"When a woman with four children comes for a job interview, she sits facing a woman, not a man who is thinking, what do I need this headache for? We understand those sitting opposite us much better," says council director general Hadara Gurfinkel.

Collections Department manager Edith Ovadia believes that having numerous women in key positions is a huge advantage. "We are all very strong, opinionated women, but women are much more sensitive, and it's much more pleasant working in such a place," she says.

Having a predominantly female staff also has its down side, though. When the council, which is within range of rocket fire from Gaza, had to set up emergency teams, it ran into a problem.

"The staff is mainly women with small children, so I had to recruit teams from outside the council - men and women whose children are older," says Moran. On the other hand, she points out, there is an atmosphere that is supportive of family that is clearly appreciated among the workers. "If someone asks to extend her maternity leave I approve it, although it makes things difficult sometimes," she says.

Council controller Nirit Schreiber, who also serves as ombudsman, believes that supportive atmosphere extends to the work environment in general. "There's much more openness here than in other places, so the cooperation is greater, both in the council and toward the public," she says.

The executives also say they often encounter chauvinistic attitudes, despite the heavy female presence in their office. "On several occasions people who came into my office thought I was the treasurer's secretary," says council treasurer Noa Levin Ritzker. "But after five minutes they understood who's the boss."

"Many men haven't yet realized the world has moved on, and when they see a woman in the office it's a little hard for them to take. Their first reaction is to treat you like a meidale," says budget director Neta Li-Avital, using the Yiddish term for a sweet young girl.

Idit Ettinger, head of social services, says "women think not only on the rational level but on the emotional one as well. In places where there are mostly men you can't always do that."

Other advantages, according to the woman: less ego, more laughter, more companionship.

One of the few male employees agrees that working in a mostly-female office has its pluses. "In my previous job I couldn't talk to anyone about my children," says spokesman Hadar Moritz. "Here I can talk about them, consult and listen."