Why are women opting out of municipal leadership?
City and town management is receiving special coverage in this issue of The Municipal. We’re pleased to take a look at the values and characteristics of two different generations of residents who are living in your city, and which improvements stand the best chance of keeping them there; why becoming known for something “weird” or different isn’t necessarily a bad thing; and how a business emergency management operation could make local industry a valuable part of your disaster preparedness plan. We also have a great story this month out of New York state about how youth fire service training programs are counteracting the attrition of recent years and reinforcing the ranks of fire service professions.
I have to admit that I was most surprised, though, to learn recently of the comparatively low numbers of women who are involved in government, especially on the local level. I had assumed that participation by women was considerably higher than it had been in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, so the #13percent movement came as a bit of a shock. Why would it be that so few women apply for municipal administration jobs, or run for public office, if they now constitute just over half of all voters?
American society is certainly past the age of presuming that certain careers can only be exercised by one gender or another. So why does the discrepancy persist? According to researchers Heidi Voorhees and Rachel Lange-Skaggs; Eau Claire, Wis., City Council President Kerry Kincaid; York, Pa., Mayor C. Kim Bracey; and Lynchburg, Va., Deputy City Manager Bonnie Svcrek, the answer is that even though pockets of gender discrimination persist, the larger problem is that women are simply not stepping up.
It turns out that some of the negative traits I see in myself — such as doubting my qualifications, second-guessing my own decisions and worrying that my children will grow up to hate me if I don’t cook dinner seven nights a week and show up at every 4-H meeting or soccer game — are not only common, but we’re using them to talk ourselves out of making a larger difference in our communities.
What a shame.
I don’t think any of the men I know would argue that there aren’t just as many sharp minds and leadership qualities out there among women as there are among themselves. Certainly, it’s in everyone’s best interest to cultivate bright minds regardless of gender (or race) and set those people up to lead us and maintain our communities. The absence of women in local municipal management and leadership should shoot to the top of priority list for CAOs and party leadership in towns and cities of every size.
Mentoring will constitute a key component of increasing female participation in politics. And I don’t think it’s sexist to face head-on the fact that another component is acceptance — by women themselves — that having daily home-related duties shared by spouses, parents, children and extended family can still result in happy, healthy and strong families.
It’s way past time to step up and use our skills for the good of our communities, ladies. We already do it at home. We do it at work. Now let’s do it for an even greater good.
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