Ben Bryant is the Deputy City Manager for the City of Happy Valley, OR.
By Ben Bryant (LinkedIn)
Hi! My name is Ben and this is my first ever blog post! Addressing the lack of women who are in the top administrative job in local government is a worthy topic at an important juncture in our profession. However, it’s daunting to offer my thoughts on a subject matter of which I have much to learn. Nevertheless, let me touch on three important aspects of this conversation based on my experience.
First, let me acknowledge that I have been incredibly privileged to get to where I am today. Not only have I been blessed in life through a positive and supportive network of friends and family, but I was privileged to have grown up in a public service driven family with a father and mentor who was a city manager. As a high schooler, our dinner table conversations centered around municipal bonds, infrastructure development, and labor relations. Unfortunately (or fortunately), not everyone had this advantage. Particularly, a vast majority of women didn’t get this experience because they were often pressured to have other interests as teenaged girls. Moving beyond the #13Percent movement, many minorities and people who grew up in poverty-stricken households similarly didn’t get the same opportunities. For me, recognizing my own privilege is important. It forces me to listen so that I may better understand others who have not had comparable advantages. Most importantly, it challenges me to utilize my experiences to create opportunities for others.
My Experience Working for Women
Continuing the theme of privilege, I have had the honor of working for women nearly my entire career. In four out of the five cities I’ve worked, I reported to women. Two of the five had women city managers (#40Percent). There are countless articles and numerous research papers that highlight the leadership traits most commonly found in women. At the risk of generalizing and attributing personality traits solely to the fact that they were women, I want to provide a few of my own takeaways of the unique leadership attributes from the women city managers (and assistants) who have mentored me. Beyond being dedicated and intelligent, they are savvy public servants with a keen ability to anticipate the impacts of and reactions to decisions. Their inquisitiveness and inclusiveness creates a safe environment that allows others to admit to not knowing the answer and to ask questions. Along those same lines, they lack ego and employees never feel the need to impress that they know more than they really do. At the same time, they possess confidence in themselves and their colleagues. Most importantly, they care about the individuals who work in the organization and express it by finding time to sit down one-on-one with employees. Somehow, they do all of this, while placing extreme importance on life at home.
The #87 Need to Play a Role
Lastly, I want to highlight the import role men play in supporting women executives. When I was studying at Willamette University, there was a significant movement aimed at adding diversity and improving social justice on campus. As a private liberal arts university in Salem, Oregon, the student body and faculty lacked diversity. The conversation seeking change took a front seat following racially charged actions by a few students around Halloween. While much of the conversation centered on race, the experience left me with a profound lasting lesson that is applicable to the #13percent movement. It’s that society can’t leave positive change just to those who stand to benefit.
At the time of this challenging time at Willamette, the University President was African-American. As soon as racial tensions rose, many students (myself included), expected the president to weigh in on the conversation. When time passed without his input, students began to wonder why he hadn’t provided guidance on ways to improve racial relations and social justice. Given his power as the University President and life experiences, it was assumed that he was in a unique position to guide Willamette past this particular incident and instill greater racial understandings. When we asked why he hadn’t spoken out against the derogatory actions, he responded simply with pointing out the fact that if he were to get involved, it would be perceived as self-serving as a person of color. Indeed, it was going to take people who looked like me to set the standard, hold people accountable, and pursue social justice. Likewise with the #13percent movement, it will take the male leaders in our profession to utilize our privilege and platform to welcome, empower, and support women seeking the top management roles. For they represent some of the best leaders I know.