Knopes of the Week: Heidi Voorhees and Rachel Lange-Skaggs

Posted on February 6, 2015

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Watch the Webinar: Heidi Voorhees and Rachel Lange-Skaggs


Leslie Knope must have been smiling down on our webinar with Heidi Voorhees, GovHR USA and Voorhees Associates and Rachel Lange-Skaggs, Village of Schaumburg, IL. Heidi and Rachel led an insightful discussion on their recent report on women in local government. One of the key findings was only 13 percent of local government chief administrative officers are women. This finding was led us to begin a meaningful campaign to understand and change the 13 percent. As you will read in the comments below, Heidi and Rachel were impactful in leading the conversation and beginning the next phase of generating action items.

Want to join the conversation? Join the #13Percent Blogging Team!

Word on the Street

Angelia Vernon, City of Roanoke, VA

Our team thoroughly enjoyed the session earlier this week. It helped to get us thinking about the support systems that we are making available in our organization. As a result of the webinar, I have committed to partnering with another peer on the development of an Employee Resource Group specifically for women. A meeting is on our calendar now to move forward on this idea. We are excited!

Oneiceia C. Howard, City of Norfolk, VA
This was my first ELGL webinar and I enjoyed listening to what Heidi and Rachel had to say about women in leadership roles.  I wish it had another 30 minutes because there were questions that weren’t answered.  I would like to see a follow up of women’s leadership feature women of color as I’m curious to how they transitioned to the positions they’re in.
Julie Underwood, City of Daly City, CA

I’m grateful that Heidi and Rachel have helped lead us in this effort to raise awareness of this shortcoming.  And to the men who joined us in the webinar, “Right on!” As a Xer, it was good to hear that attitudes about women in the workplace have changed over time. However, as we all know, more can be done. We need to do more to prepare the leadership pipeline with more women (and people of color) and we need to do more to confront our gender and racial biases. 
Norma Alley, City of Tigard, OR

What a great webinar and I appreciated Heidi, Rachel and ELGL for addressing such an important topic to local government leadership. A few of my favorite takeaways was be each other’s best advocate, the idea presented about struggles husbands of career driven woman have and what it means to be a stay at home dad, and don’t be afraid to say something when someone uses offensive gender specific slang. Definitely some great food for thought.  I look forward to continued discussions on the #13percent topic.
Susie Aguilar, Western Municipal Water District, CA
leslie-knope-winningI found their discussion very informative. I was intrigued by the “blind interview” concept and shared the suggestion with our HR Manager. Interestingly, we recently changed our process and reviewing supervisors do not see applicant names which helps with objectivity. This demonstrates some organizations are taking steps to address these areas.
I also appreciated the “work-life-harmony” statement. This is something that is taken for granted no matter our gender or background. Having the discussion brings awareness to the importance of balance in all spectrums of life.
Finally, overall, there was good chatting going on and great points that Rachel and Heidi touched upon. It was nice to hear their perspectives and recommendations on how to take actions. Great job!
Ashley Jacobs, Dorchester County, SC
This was an important conversation, and one that we need to keep having until 13 percent is history!  Thank you Heidi and Rachel for leading the charge!
Yolanda Clay-Triplett, Orange County, NC
leslie-knope-smileyI thoroughly enjoyed the webinar. I think the discussion was frank, open, honest and spoke to an issue that still makes folks uncomfortable. I am a firm believer that it is in the state of being uncomfortable that we evolve to a place called better.  As a public administrator over 16 years, I have seen the strides made by women and people of color, but also see where we have so much room to keep striving for more inclusion. Both Heidi and Rachel were on point with their insight and glad that they shared so freely. Let’s keep this discussion going in this circle and beyond.
Bonnie Svrcek, City of Lynchburg, VA
Takeaways:  We need to make the magic wand wishes come true!  Rachel wants a database regarding the make-up of every local government governing body and Heidi wants blind auditions. Creative thinking and data are part of the work that we need to champion in the Women Leading Government Coalition that is forming. Rachel’s “four things” are spot on—-Women need encouragement, strong communication skills, good mentors, and willingness to  take risks!
Katie Babits, City of Veneta, OR
4b9c51d1ced8d4e9_tumblr_lzcueffjIl1ro0cbpo2_500.gif.xxxlargeMy favorite takeaway from the #13percent webinar was the four topics that can change the #13percent: encouragement, communication, mentoring and taking risks.  I am a female and I am at the beginning of my career, and I have flourished in positions when management focused on those four topics.  The sad part: I have only received input and direction with those four topics from female management.  Of course, I know not everyone has the same experiences!  I would like this subject to reach so many people that all managers treat all employees the same, and truly invoke all four topics in their management style.
Michelle Daniels, City of Henderson, NC
The webinar was certainly informative and I appreciate how it offered so much insight from various perspectives that impact our presence in local government.
Specifically, the recommendations on:

  • key functions and processes to become engaged in in the organization,
  • how to gain the experience from wherever you are on the org chart,
  • and who to get to know in the organization, surrounding government entities and the community

I recognize there is a lot to be learned outside of budget and finance when considering the many departments our governments are comprised of, and I look forward to going the extra mile.
Overall, hearing the encouragement to keep striving for more is greatly appreciated.  Also, reading an abundance of comments from other women in management roles further enforces that it has happened and can continue to happen for those of us seeking such opportunities in the future.

Michael Baker, Village of Downers Grove, IL

leslie-knope-fierceI truly enjoyed and respected the manner in which Heidi and Rachel thoughtfully responded to the prepared questions as well as those from the audience.  There were valuable takeaways on how we all can contribute to building a stronger and more diverse profession.

Rae Buckley, Town of Chapel Hill, NC
My takeaway was a reminder that we need to encourage women to aspire to management positions in a variety of ways.  In addition to encouragement, it’s important to prepare women for management roles by offering opportunities to take on responsibilities related to economic development and capital projects as well as opportunities to work with elected officials and outside agencies.
Matt Hartleib, City of Baytown, TX
Heidi and Rachel provided an enlightening combination of real world context and sobering data on this important issue. My takeaway is that this is not a ‘lady issue’ or even just a local gov issue. This is a societal issue, and a great opportunity for local gov to take the lead in making a positive impact.
Emily Leuning, City of West Linn, OR
The webinar was fabulous! Thanks to Heidi and Rachel for sharing their insight and responding to the many questions that arose during the webinar. They began the much-needed process of identifying the issue and beginning to ask questions about why it exists and how we can address it. This is clearly a topic of interest for many people, and I look forward to continuing this important conversation!
Karl Knapp, Town of Cary, NC
Heidi Voorhees and Rachel Lange-Skaggs did an excellent job of identifying the elements of human psychology that can work in conjunction with preconceived notions about women to remove them from consideration during the review of applications for manager positions. Their solution of removing names and other information that would identify the gender of candidates during applicant review it is one that I use now, but in my experience it is not widely practiced.
Barbara Drake, Douglas County, CO

I especially liked the part about what things to do to expose Deputy or Assistant City/County Managers to opportunities that will help prepare them to be City/County Managers in the future. I thought that was well laid out and specific so as to be quire helpful.
Stephanie McBrayer, AICP
It was a wonderful webinar.  Its high time we start talking SERIOUSLY about these issues.

 tumblr_inline_nblay6PleK1qjs3n6I am one of those women who spent her entire career in the “no progress” zone.  In 1990 I graduated college with honors, and brought 10 years of experience in private business (graphic arts, bakeries and retail sales) to my work as a city planner. Although I already had a family I worked more overtime than most of the guys.  I was thorough and patient, and always got the job done, and so was often given the most difficult and delicate assignments.
Even so, advancement and pay did not materialize.  As a certified planner I was once given the title “Assistant Planner” (entry-level) even though there was no other planner for me to “assist”.  When I complained I was told not to worry, I would get the work asssignments no matter what my title was.  I responded that I KNEW I would get the WORK, it was the PAY for that level of work I wanted.
In some jurisdictions the pattern was hiring a man with dubious qualifications as “Director” and a woman with true qualifications as his underling to do the actual work.  The women did the work, wrote the reports, dealt with the public and coached the “director” in how to present the information to the elected officials.  The man went to meetings, and typically did not share what went on at those meetings with the woman who would actually do the work.  Typically the man made twice as much money “supervising” as the woman with the qualifications who did the work.  I saw this in MANY departments (engineering, housing, accounting, city management), not just planning.  It was / is highly frustrating to all of us.
Leslie-Knope-Go-To-The-Corner-And-Think-About-What-Youve-Done-GifTraining was an issue.  Women are so often not trained in the issues or on equipment, and told to “figure it out” where the men are given proper training and every advantage to suceed.  I pursued and paid for my own training, usually being able to negotiate a paid day away from work while attending the trainings I paid for myself.  I paid for my own certification process, even though these fees are traditionally paid for by one’s employer.  Eventually I had better qualifications than most of my bosses. I got hired for some jobs because my qualifications were so far ahead of the men applying for the position they couldn’t be ignored.
So why no progress in 30 years, even though we women met every challenge put to us?  Simple – the guys don’t want to let their priviledged positions go.  They are afraid to compete with us because we work harder.  Fewer and fewer of them are going to college, and they do not work as hard at it when they do.  A level playing field terrifies them, and they work harder at keeping us from advancing than they do at bettering their own job skills.
role_modelMore and more of us women are leaving the idea of working for anyone else behind (since we know the liklihood of getting ahead in a resular job is not good) and opening our own businesses.  Even in business we do not get the capital support we need from traditional sources (bank loans, venture capitalists, etc) like men do, and must find other ways to fund our fledgling operations (like women-only mutual support circles, or micro-lending opportunities).  If I wanted to take on employees, the first person I would hire would be a personal assistant.  The second would be a good “front man” whom I could give a script, dress up in a suit and teach to present information to the men who will make the decisions.  His actual title would be “Front Man”.  Let’s call it like it is…
I have often counseled women in the professions that knowledge IS power.  If the guys don’t know how to do their jobs, and we women do, there is power that comes with their abdication of responsibility.  We ladies need to step up to the plate and take that power.  Form the networking relationships you need to get the information you need, either inside or outside your organization, and cut the dead weight out of the loop.  Stop explaining so much to the male boss who isn’t qualified to understand the issue.  Explain it instead to HIS bosses, and to the elected officials who come asking (and many will).  Don’t be afraid to utilize your own power, and don’t give it away.  And stay away from the women who suck up to such men (the ones who got their current positions by means of their painted nails, done-up hair and willingness to do what ever boss-man says and not by means of knowledge and work experience) because they are often more deadly than the men they serve.

Ashleigh Weeden, Grey County, Ontario
Galentines-DayTotes 100% on board with this Knope of the Week. These are ladies that Leslie would be proud to celebrate Galentine’s Day with! The biggest take away for me was that the work Heidi and Rachel are doing to demonstrate evidence of change (or lack there of). In order to actually move the needle, we need to know where that needle currently sits – so we can measure which actions have which impacts. It’s data that I wish we had in Canada and I’m now itching to see what we can do to develop our own catalogue of information and evidence on this topic.

It was a welcome change to hear notes about what organizations and allies can do to help widen the doors to greater diversity – instead of the usual tack of demanding that women, persons of colour, or other non-male/non-white people need to do to be more like the “stale, male and pale” (as Kent put it) system that currently has us stuck in the status quo. The strong stance of noticing and not tolerating micro-aggressions, as well as noticing and eliminating the more qualitative aspects of local government culture that precludes greater diversity were wonderful to hear – and it’s wonderful to know that we have a community of young leaders who are committed to taking the conversation beyond the committee table and into real action.
Ashley Graff, City of Gresham, OR
anigif_enhanced-buzz-27945-1386641291-9I’m proud of ELGL for highlighting the deficiency of female leaders in top local government positions, and for challenging the ELGL community to change the status quo. Many thanks to both Heidi and Rachel for sharing their research and informed perspectives – you were great. And thanks should also go to the webinar participants who contributed to a lively conversation. I’m looking forward to the #13percent blog series.
Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, IL
Heidi and Rachel continued their excellent work this week by keeping the #13percent issue front of mind for the next generation of local gov leaders. I was impressed by the depth and breadth of questions fielded by the duo during this week’s webinar. They were not afraid to challenge us to think differently and make hard choices. Likewise, they were quite willing to ask for help from all of us in this important endeavor.
Paula Dennison, City of Stillwater, OK
I’ve already shared this information with other women at all levels of local government. The webinar should be expanded to a ½ day training session!
Blaine Wing, City of Des Plaines, IL
I agree that it was a very timely and well planned event. I feel that both speakers provided additional info and shared some great thoughts and ideas.
Dan Weinheimer, City of Fort Collins, CO
tumblr_n07kpcXLR41qd93bpo4_250I’ve continued the conversation with my colleagues and shared the webinar summary link with others in my organization. Biggest takeaway for me – regardless of gender we all could use mentoring, support and opportunities. I think bridging skill and experience gaps for all local government professionals is important to increasing the percentage of minority City Managers.
Another takeaway that crossed gender issues is work-life balance. Personally, I struggle with managing work commitments and giving myself the space to excel in the career while balancing my desire to be an active participant in raising my two young boys and supportive to my wife’s career ambitions. Excelling in a 24/7 job while maintaining healthy personal connections is a challenging thing… we need more dialogue on that aspect of the CM job regardless of who gets it.
Cyndy Powell, Manager in Transition
The speaker’s research and comments were right on.
tumblr_n27hsqVh3Y1ql01e1o1_500The best story I have was when I was introduced to my EcoDev Board and a member said, “Look Joe, isn’t she pretty”, “you are so much prettier than the picture in the paper!”… They were older gentlemen, and needless to say I was shocked. Keep in mind my friends call me “professional Cyndy” since I consider I need to be professional at all times!
I experienced a Council that asked me if I, “as a woman, would be strong enough to make tough decisions and keep them out of trouble.” I presented them with the alternatives and my recommendation and they concurred, and after I implemented a termination, there was push back from the employee’s family and neighbors, they caved and stated I should have been gentler. Termination is not pleasant for anyone. Then after the termination for continued violation of personnel policies, I was asked if I would reconsider, and hire the person back. What some people (men and women) believe of women managers is we are going to behave ‘like’ their mother, their sister, or their wife, they forget we are Managers/Administrators and make tough decisions for the greater good of organization that benefit the community as a whole based on the policies the Council adopted.
leslie-white-male-senatorAlso, as for women drama, I find it occurs in organizations that have accepted the drama in the past and it becomes part of the culture. These individuals, men and women, do not have the professional maturity to accept direction as it relates to their work and they take it personally and so begins the drama.
My other comments will be in a book someday. Maybe I’ll go town to town training Councils!!
Thank you for providing this valuable information and the question/answer session as well. Great article in PM as was the PEW study!
Megan Smit, Cabarrus County, NC
I’d like to say a big thank you. Thank you for taking your time, and experience, and sharing them yesterday. I was encouraged to see a good gender mix on the call – and was excited to participate with leaders from across the country.

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