Very Local Government-y: Engaging Women in Public Service

Posted on July 8, 2014

ELGL green icon

ELGL public affairs assistant Emily Leuning returns with another article in the series, “Very Local Government-y.” This time around she interviews UNC professor Leisha DeHart-Davis about the recent “Engaging Women in Public Service: Taking Your Place and Paying it Forward” conference held in Chapel Hill, NC in June 2014. 

Background Check on Leisha DeHart-Davis

Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

Leisha DeHart-Davis joined the School of Government in May 2012. Previously, she was a faculty member with the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs and Administration, where she also served as doctoral program director. DeHart-Davis’s research focuses on “green tape,” the term she uses to describe effective policies and procedures. She specializes in employee engagement and workplace climate studies within local government organizations. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theoryand Public Administration Review. She serves on the board of advisors for the Arizona State University Center for Research and Organization Design. DeHart-Davis holds a PhD in public policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Recapping the “Engaging Women in Public Service” Conference


On June 6, the UNC School of Government held a daylong event exploring the role of women in the public sector in North Carolina. Titled, “Engaging Women in Public Service: Taking Your Place and Paying it Forward”, the event was attended by over 100 people and featured North Carolina State Treasurer Janet Cowell as the keynote speaker. Sessions covered topics including networking, communication, body language, creativity and how to cultivate and make room for your own creativity, as well as a panel discussion on work/life integration.

For further info, here’s a Twitter recap of the event.

Q & A with Leisha DeHart-Davis


I spoke with Leisha DeHart-Davis who is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and Government at UNC and one of the organizers of the event.

On how the title for the event was chosen:

BpjKw76IcAEWZT_It is a play on words: the idea that there are engaging women who are already in the room as well as the notion of reaching out and engaging woman as a verb. “Taking your place is the idea that women sometimes put barriers on themselves, and we wanted to think of it a little bit differently. You do have a role to play in the world and it’s up to you to move forward, equip yourself to do that and seize opportunities when they arise”, DeHart-Davis explained.

Paying it forward is “the realization that if women don’t take care of other women, we can’t expect men to do that… women have to be willing to pay their blessings forward.”


Bpcu0qyCQAAZ5Qh“You have to expect that the more you speak up, the more people will dislike you. You’re going to have detractors, you’re going to have critics, and you have to be able to weather that.”

“We struck a chord, and what we have to do now is to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”

On bringing men into the conversation (note: no men registered for the event):

“When you bring men to the table, it really changes the conversation. We didn’t specifically invite men – the invitation was to anyone interested in women advancing in public organizations, it was not closed to just women. Next time, we’ll be more intentional to include men and make sure they know we want them there.”

Bpds-CGCAAAtbCYOn the gender disparity at various levels in North Carolina’s government:

For the gender breakdown in NC government, click here

“Why are women not in these positions: are they not pursuing them? Is it about the jobs themselves? Implicit biases in those doing the hiring? It’s hard to know how to define the problem so it can be solved, and that’s one of the things we have to be thinking about and investigating.”

“When women don’t pursue those opportunities, why is that and what can we do to change that?”

Suggestions for ELGL14:

A session on women in local government, focusing on ways to encourage women to pursue leadership in local government.

Supplemental Reading

New Sensation: Leisha DeHart-Davis, UNC Associate Professor of Public Administration and Government

Women Leaders in Government

Women Leaders in North Carolina Government: We Still Have a Long Way to Go

Leisha DeHart-Davis | Master of Public Administration

nc women

Close window