#13Percent: My Journey and My Role

Posted on January 4, 2016

Today’s #13Percent column is by Matt Bronson, City Manager for Grover Beach, California. 

superwoman patriarchy gifI’ll never forget the moment in July 1999.  I was only a few weeks out of graduate school working as a management fellow in the City Manager’s Office in Charlotte, North Carolina.  My role included developing agendas for the weekly Leadership Team meetings with the City Manager and her senior staff.

One day in July, I was with the team at an offsite retreat when City Manager Pam Syfert turned to me and said, “It’s your meeting, get us started.”  From that moment forward, I became the facilitator for the Leadership Team of one of the nation’s largest cities at the age of 24.  Pam Syfert, along with her Assistant City Managers Julie Burch and Vi Lyles, believed in me and my abilities and provided a strong example of excellence in local government management.

This is one of the moments that comes up for me when I think about women in local government management, one of the defining issues in our profession in 2015 with the work of the ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession and particularly ELGL’s #13percent movement and key thought leaders including Kirsten Wyatt, Pam Antil, Julie Underwood, and many others.  I’ve watched this movement begin last January with a blog post decrying the “glacial pace” of female managers in local government and lead to numerous articles, conference presentations, new groups like the League of Women in Government, webinars, social experiments involving beverages, hashtags, Twittersations, and countless conversations.  This movement has profoundly impacted our profession by insisting that we must do better to achieve gender equity in how we manage our diverse organizations and providing concrete tools and strategies to do so.  The common approach of simply waiting for change to happen on its own is not sufficient to achieve the #50percent equity in leadership positions that our local government profession needs.

Like many people, this topic is personal for me in many respects and my thinking has evolved along the way.  I’ve worked for and with talented female executives throughout my career beginning in Charlotte as described earlier, continuing to Marin County, California working for Assistant CAO Mona Miyasato (now CEO of Santa Barbara County), and now in San Mateo, California working for our prior City Manager Susan Loftus and with our dynamic Police Chief Susan Manheimer.

Our Northern California regional association board typically is predominantly female and I’m fortunate to have many talented female executives as friends and colleagues in our profession.  Given this experience, I admittedly had a sheltered view of gender balance as I felt I had been immersed in it my entire career and frankly thought it was more of a norm than it really is in local government.  Through the #13percent movement and the many voices who have contributed to it, I am much more aware of the extent of the issues and the drivers behind them both within and outside our profession and why it’s so vital to have greater numbers of female managers throughout our organizations.

Most importantly and my biggest takeaway is my role as part of the “87%” to build on awareness to be more proactive in improving gender equity.  From advocating for flexible schedules and family leave to ensuring diverse interview panels and applicant pools, from mentoring aspiring female leaders to promoting female/male leadership partnerships, I have a responsibility to help pave the way for female leaders in our profession.  Their talent, abilities, and aspirations are exemplary and beyond question…my role is help advance this cause and break down the institutional barriers that too long have stood in the way of the equity to make our organizations thrive and perform even better.

justin-trudeau-20140429Thank you to the many leaders who have advanced this movement over the past year to improve gender equity.  To paraphrase new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who appointed a diverse Cabinet that was half female, his Cabinet looks like Canada “because it’s 2015.”

If 2015 lit a fire for gender equity, let’s make 2016 a year to accelerate progress towards #50percent so local government looks like the diverse communities we serve and provides opportunities for current and future female leaders, including my own five-year-old daughter and budding public servant.  Happy new year!

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