ELGL Memo to ICMA on Executive Board Diversity

Posted on April 24, 2018

Recently, ELGL was invited by ICMA to submit a white paper/memo on how ICMA can improve diversity on its Executive Board. Here’s the document that ELGL submitted:

To: ICMA Executive Board

From: Kirsten Wyatt, ELGL Executive Director

cc: ELGL Executive Board

Date: April 20, 2017

Re: ICMA Board Diversity Initiatives

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important topic from ELGL’s perspective as an ICMA affiliate organization. To us, the answer to the question: “how can ICMA diversify its executive board leadership” is best answered with another question: “what is the focus of ICMA?”

We believe that ICMA is a resource for managers and assistant managers. ELGL members who are current managers and aspire to management positions are members of ICMA. However, data shows that the percentage of women and people of color who are in local government management leadership roles is still very low, especially when compared the local government community as a whole.

Thus, the percentage of women and people of color who are voting ICMA members is much smaller than sufficient to yield diversity on your board of directors. Further, it smacks of tokenism when ICMA targets the small percentage of women and people of color specifically for board leadership. Here are a few ideas:

  • Broaden the definition of diversity to reset the measure

What is the definition of “diversity” to the executive board? We assume it means gender and race, but we also perceive other definitions that are worthwhile to explore: small community managers; working-while-retired managers; working-parent managers; mid-career-transition managers… the list goes on.

Given the difficulty to recruit female and non-white board members from the current large group of white male managers, perhaps resetting the definition of who can serve on the board shows to the larger ICMA community that ICMA wants new faces serving at the board level.

Essentially, resetting the expectation that executive board service is only available to people after a long career, service to a state association, service on a committee, and a certain job title in a medium- to large-sized city.

  • Allow non-voting members to serve on the executive board

This is perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit solution, from our perspective. There many ELGL members who are not voting ICMA members, yet they are playing important roles in their agency and state management association. These members would be great candidates for executive board positions to add new perspectives to the board.

  • Or, broaden the definition of ICMA voting members

This is similar to #1 but would result in ICMA recognizing more people (not necessarily with the manager or assistant manager title) as voting members.  While we’ve heard the argument related to “skin in the game” and paying ICMA dues, we reject that the number of years paying dues has anything to do with loyalty to an organization, especially since the vast majority of members have their dues paid by their employer.

  • Direct time, money, and resources to programs that will advance more women and people of color into city management roles.

There are four key initiatives where we believe that ICMA’s clout could have a major impact:

  • Engaging the National League of Cities and the US Conference of Mayors

ICMA’s influence with these two groups cannot be understated. ICMA should significantly increase the exposure and conversation about the lack of women and people of color in appointed leadership with these two groups. Talking about diversity with the same people at ICMA every year won’t move the needle, but talking about it with the elected officials who appoint leadership can have a bigger impact. ICMA should partner at all NLC and USCM events on sessions and discussions on appointed leadership diversity initiatives.

  • Endorsing equity riders or  “Rooney rules”

There’s a longstanding argument between recruiters and governing boards about who is at fault for the lack of women and people of color advancing in manager recruitments. ICMA should formally endorse recruitment processes that include an equity rider or employ something similar to the NFL’s “Rooney rule” to ensure that either contractually or procedurally, both the governing body and the recruiter are paying close attention to attracting and advancing a diverse pool of candidates.

  • Provide ICMA funding and ICMA staff support for state-level programs to advance women and people of color under an umbrella program

The piecemeal, fly-by-night format of state level training and support to advance more women and people of color is damaging to ICMA and your interest in diversity. Some states have exceptional programs; some states have none at all. A centralized program to ensure that every state, regardless of individual interest or state association support, would level the playing field so a potential manager in Pennsylvania can receive as much support and feedback as a potential manager in California. For smaller states, a centralized program could assist with multi-state program sharing. For larger states, a centralized program could provide research, best practices, and programming so the wheel is not being reinvented each year.

  • Continue to support research and information sharing on the demographics of local government leadership

Thank you for your generous support of the ELGL Diversity Dashboard. The research experience for our Research Coordinators plus the data we are receiving (and will share in mid-May) has been invaluable. The data and stories from the collection are also important. It is showing that the lack of diversity in local government is a very real problem, and thus, ICMA’s interest in diversifying your leadership as well as your organization is timely and meaningful. We encourage you to support our Diversity Dashboard work as we translate the data and findings, into next steps and future data collections.


Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment on this topic. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like more clarification on the topics included in this memorandum.

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