Rebecca Olson (LinkedIn & Twitter), City of Roseville, MN, Assistant City Manager, writes about continuing the conversation on increasing gender diversity in local government. Share your thoughts by signing up to be guest writer for this series.
Last week my daughter was on spring break from college. In the course of trying to juggle the scheduling of who is using the car to go to work, she wound up at my office. I gave her a tour, introduced her to people and eventually we sat down and started talking about what I do as an Assistant City Manager. This has always been a struggle to explain things to my kids. Their eyes tend to gloss over when I mention organizational development, human resources, community engagement and so on. So, in an attempt to try and make my job seem less boring to an 18 year old, I started talking about what I was working on that week.
I shared with her the work we were doing on our community survey, and how we were preparing an emergency communications plan and why that was important. Then I started to talk to her about the work the city was doing with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). As a family, we have had many conversations about race over the past couple of years. Both of my daughters are Hispanic, and yet my boys are White. Recently, there has been a lot of work done at the city-level on racial equity in Minnesota, spurred in part by the Philando Castile shooting. This was a tragic event and I have talked to my children extensively about what happened. The issue of racial equity is something that my daughter understands, something that resonates with her. After showing her some of the materials that I had such as demographics, restrictive covenants and maps showing the intersectionality of race and income, she looked up at me and simply said “I’m glad you work on race issues.”
With that simple statement, I realized that the work we do matters more so than ever. Although this conversation was about race, she was watching. She sees what I am doing. She claims she isn’t paying attention to local government because it’s “boring”, but I see that it matters to her. And she is the reason we must continue conversations such as #13percent and keep working on important issues. She is watching. And so are all the other young girls and boys. She is of the generation that will hopefully, one day, make the leap for us to where these conversations may be unnecessary.
All of the other generations – men and women- before us have worked to get us to this point in time. We have made strides in getting more women into the Chief Administrator role in local government. We are seeing women take the lead in acquiring Master’s degrees, and we are seeing record number of women running for political office. We are at a precipice and we can’t turn back. The #13percent conversation helped to propel others to address the issue of women in the Chief Administrative Officer position. We must keep this conversation going until there is a generation that sees women CAOs as the norm and not a statistical figure.
So, what can we do to continue the conversation? We can be visible. Even though I am not the top position in my organization, I still make a point of being accessible and visible. I have had the wonderful opportunity to speak to college students about this career, to do informational interviews with high school and college students, to serve as an Interviewer for Mock Interviews, and to speak to other organizations. I have stepped up to be a volunteer mentor with the local high school. As much as I can, I am visible. It is important to have strong women visible in this profession because we, as a society, rely on examples, stories, and images that inform us about who can do certain jobs. Without visibility we are left to rely on others to fill in the blanks, paint those pictures and tell those stories. We may not realize when others are watching, but they are. So let’s make sure we are continuing to tell our stories, and paint our pictures by remaining visible.