Seek Challenges and Shape Your Network
Advice and Inspiration from a Four Local Government Powerhouse Ladies
The City of Corvallis, OR has a population of more than 57,000 residents. The City has nine departments and five of the department heads are women. Not your typical breakdown of local government leaders. Working in this environment has been an empowering and formative platform as I began my local government career path. I want to share with you, in the below interview, what I have learned from four of the female directors.
Power of Four
- Karen Emery: Parks and Recreation Director for eight years
- Mary Steckel: Public Works Director for five years
- Mary Beth Altmann Hughes: Human Resources Director for three years
- Nancy Brewer: 22 years as Finance Director
What was a pivotal moment in your career path that inspired you to become a local government leader?
Karen: I wanted to affect positive change in the community I lived in. I felt I had the skills and experience
to shape our community through listening, planning, and follow through and that I could move the community forward in some way with the help of a great team and my leadership.
Mary: I’ve wanted to make things better in the world since I was a little girl. Local government was a way to do that and potentially make an actual difference in someone’s life at a very personal, intimate level. I’ve been in a leadership position in Public Works for 20+ years and it still pleases me that a community member can stop me in the grocery store to share an issue about Public Works services, and that often I have the means to fix it—resulting in an immediate and positive interaction with government.
Mary Beth: Being involved in the community where I live was a major reason I applied for this position. Feeling like I am involved and making a positive contribution to the place I call home remains a significant driver for me.
Nancy: I was working in the Community Development Department and several other Department Directors recommended the City Manager place me into the interim position.
What do you wish the next generation of young female government leaders would stop doing? Or perhaps start doing?
Karen: I would encourage young female future leaders in government to first, believe they can be successful at anything they invest in, and second, take a step, then two, then three towards the goal. You can’t hit a home run unless you swing the bat.
Mary: Most of the young female government leaders that I encounter are confident, competent, and intelligent individuals. So they don’t really need help; however, I would tell them to find and form relationships/friendships with other female leaders of all ages and create a web of synergy and collaboration. This is the strength women bring to the workforce and they should exploit it.
Mary Beth: I think young female leaders should become engaged and learn the “business” of the organization. Seek out challenging tasks and assignments, roll up your sleeves and earn your stripes. Then take that information and find innovative ways that government organizations can operate. This is especially true when it comes to new media communication; challenge tenured staff to engage in more meaningful and creative avenues that resonate within your community. New avenues should be substantive and not just glitzy. More is being demanded of local governments and we need young leaders to help us transition into a new way of engaging and interacting with community members.
If you had to choose an alternative career for yourself, what would you choose?
Karen: Private business owner
Mary: Gymnast or lawyer
Mary Beth: Dolphin trainer
Nancy: Wedding dress sales