Rae Buckley works for the Town of Chapel Hill, NC as the Assistant to the Manager for Organizational and Strategic Initiatives.
By Rae Buckley, LinkedIn and Twitter
“We believe that anyone with a passion for public service can become a member, and understand there is no longer one path to leadership.” – Quote from the ELGL “About” web page.
This statement and everything else about ELGL is why I feel so at home when I interact with the organization. It’s a very different feeling from the one I had when I announced to some colleagues that I was interested in attending ICMA last year and got the reaction, “why would YOU want to go to ICMA?” Well, I answered, because I work in the Manager’s Office and I’m interested in the field. And the answer I received was: “ICMA is for career managers. I don’t know if it would be that interesting to you.”
Am I a career manager? No. I came to the Manager’s Office via social justice activism, community organizing, affordable housing policy, community planning, and human resources. A career path, I might add, that was predominantly filled with women. And at no point during any of this path did I set my sites on being a local government chief administrative officer (CAO).
So I didn’t go. But I’m a slow burner and after a couple weeks I was like, hey wait a minute! Does someone need to call dibs on becoming a CAO to be a viable candidate to attend a conference and learn more about the trends and challenges of the field? And furthermore, is this some kind riding shotgun situation where people who call dibs on a management career first somehow get to claim the best seat? As a woman and as someone who has come to local government management from a non-traditional career path I found this kind of thinking to be alienating and intimidating.
From a woman’s perspective, studies like the recent KPMG Women’s Leadership Study show that women are more cautious in pursuing leadership roles. Of the 3,000 respondents in the KPMG study, 76% lacked confidence to ask for access to senior leadership, 73% lacked confidence to pursue a job opportunity beyond their experience, and over 60% lacked confidence to request a career path plan, a promotion or a raise. So in general, we’re probably less likely than men to call dibs on the boss seat.
From the perspective of someone working in the Manager’s Office who didn’t target my position as the next step in becoming a CAO, I can tell you that my career path is guided by my interest to learn what I haven’t yet learned and a desire to increase the scope of my influence over systems that I care about. Those two guiding forces have landed me in an Assistant to the Manager role in which I find myself challenged and fulfilled every day. But a reaction like the one I got from my co-workers made me question my legitimacy in the role if I didn’t have my sights on the ultimate management position.
Despite the confidence setback this experience gave me I can tell you that what I bring to the table as a woman and from my former jobs helps to advance our management agenda every day. Like many other women, I’m right at home in a highly networked, fast-moving environment where relationships, teamwork and collaboration are necessary requirements for success. And when Heidi Vorhees described the track record that elected officials are looking for in their manager candidates, I was struck by how many of those experiences I had already from my former jobs such as negotiating with agencies on behalf of the town, holding roles in economic development projects, and established relationships with elected officials.
So my contribution to the #13 Percent conversation and my call to action to my brothers and sisters who want to change this 30-year status quo is to be actively welcoming to local government leadership newcomers. Encourage them to attend ICMA events and other professional organizations that will help them learn and grow as future leaders. Recruit talent from non-traditional disciplines (planning, community development, code enforcement, health and human services, information science) to broaden and diversify what the talent pool looks like in your community for leadership positions. And on a personal note, don’t assume that because someone didn’t declare their intention to be a CAO when they left graduate school that they are not as worthy of the position as those of you who have set your sights on it all along.
In closing I want to express my gratitude to the authors of the Women Leading Government article in PM Magazine (Heidi Vorhees and Rachel Lange-Skaggs), and Kirsten Wyatt and all of the contributors to this topic for ELGL for raising this topic up and giving it your focused and passionate attention. This conversation is breaking down barriers, calling us all to take action, and making it possible for more of us to find our unique path to leadership. Thanks for making this emerging leader feel at home.