1984 with Whitney Rhodes, Pierce County, WA

women-in-local-government

We’ve had a HUGE response for the upcoming Webinar: Women in Local Government. Based on the responses, it’s clear that the issue is not only a female issue but an issue of how local government can and should better represent the community’s demographic. We asked those who registered for the webinar to response to four questions.

Whitney Rhodes, Pierce County, Assistant to the Auditor

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Since 1984, the percent of women in local government managerial roles has not changed from a measly 13%. Where were you in 1984?

Well that’s the year I was born so…

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Describe your view of whether local government has been effective in attracting a diverse workforce (women, minorities, etc.)?

One word? Meh.

As for women, most departments that I interact with have a lot of women. However, that is area specific – head into planning, public works, city managers, finance, IT, and you run into few women. Communications, economic development, HR, other service functions – the women are plentiful. Personally I’ve experienced a lot more age-ism in my career with local government. As a young woman, I’ve been seated waiting for a meeting to start, and asked to go “fetch coffee”. Unbeknownst to them at the time, I was their subject matter expert. This experience has been repeated more than once.

Wave a magic wand and give us three suggestions for improving diversity in the local government workforce.

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  • Turnover! It’s fantastic that I work with a ton of people who have been here for 20+ years. Their insights and experience are irreplaceable. However, the office ends up with very few new ideas and creating synergy is hard when you are a one-woman show. A mix would be fantastic.
  • Better understanding of what government does: it’s hard to convince someone to look for a career in an area that seems more like a black hole than a rewarding job.
  • Teach civics: this goes back to number two but if every kid in America knew what their local government was and did I think you’d have a lot more diversity in the people interested in working in it.

Who do you look up to in local government?

  • My boss Julie Anderson (and not just because she’s my boss)
  • ELGL’s own Kirsten Wyatt
  • (I guess it says something when I have a hard time coming up with 3)