That was the percentage of women in city leadership roles in 1981, according to the ICMA. In 2014, they carried out the same study again and guess what? 13 percent. No progress had been made towards increasing the number of women in Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) roles in local government in more than 30 years.
It’s a sobering number. So much so that Kirsten Wyatt, and her husband Kent, co-founders of the Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) network, resolved to raise awareness of the issue. In 2015, they launched the #13percent initiative. Using social media and online events, they aimed to not only keep the issues of gender imbalance and inequality in local government top of mind, but also to inspire new programs to address it.
So what progress has been made since? I asked Kirsten that question earlier this week in our webinar Women in City Leadership - Planning Our Future.
According to ELGL’s 2018 research, 25 percent of women now hold Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) or Assistant Chief Administrative Officer (ACAO) roles. The number 1 and number 2 spots in local government.
So we’re starting to see the needle moving but we still have a long way to go. And while I’m not a woman in a city leadership role, I do know something about what it’s like to be a woman in an industry where there are big gender imbalances at the top. The tech industry is one of the worst offenders. Half of tech startups in the US, UK, Canada and China have no women in their leadership teams at all. According to 2015 numbers, women hold only 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies and make up a tiny 7 percent of partners at the top 100 venture capital firms.
Now, I realize that working in government and working in software companies is not the same. There are many things unique to local government’s gender equity challenge that I have little insight into. But what I do know is that regardless of industry, a lack of women in senior positions makes it harder to inspire a new generation to take their place. We need more same-gender mentors, more role models and more recognition of the value of gender-balanced workplaces.
That’s why I was so excited about hosting three inspirational women for our webinar, each doing amazing things to shape our city leadership teams:
- Kirsten Wyatt - Co-founder and Executive Director of ELGL.
- Rebecca Ryan - Futurist, economist, author and change-maker. Rebecca is also founder of Rebecca Ryan NEXT Generation Consulting
- Brynn Myers - The City of Temple's first woman City Manager. Serving as the Chief Executive Officer of the city, she manages an annual budget of nearly $150 million and a staff of over 900 employees.
While we absolutely should keep working to get more women into city leadership roles, I firmly believe we should also be celebrating and raising the profile of the ones already there.
International Women’s Day holds a special significance to me. 2 years ago today I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Now she’s a bubbly, bright 15-month-old, I often find myself thinking about the world in which she will grow up. I wonder about the type of opportunities she’ll be presented with and how they will be shaped by her own hard work, legal standards and attitudes towards women in her chosen profession. I know they will also be influenced by her own sense of what is possible.
That’s why I’m grateful to women like Kirsten, Rebecca and Brynn. Women who inspire others to follow in their footsteps and not feel limited by their gender.
Please enjoy the webinar recording.
Happy International Women’s Day!