The #13Percent initiative is sweeping the country with mentions in Governing Magazine and GovExec. We’ll continue to highlight the lack of diversity in local government and hope that you’ll help us raise awareness by sharing the #13Percent initiative with colleagues, on social media, and in conversations.
It’s a Men’s Issue Too
Surprise and disbelief. Those were the emotions I felt when I first read Kirsten Wyatt’s article on the number of women in City Manager positions across local government. I figured that something had to be wrong with the data. No increase in 30 years! That seemed impossible.
I didn’t believe the numbers at first because, like others who have written on the #13percent issue, I have worked for strong female leaders. Then I thought about it again. Those female managers that I worked for weren’t in Chief Administrative Officer positions, they were mid-level managers ranging from communications directors to assistant city managers. The CAO’s in three of those organizations were male.
Although I find it interesting that you can work in local government, self identify as a “fumbling feminist” and not be aware of this issue I think what’s really important is realizing this is not just a women’s issue. This problem is not limited to women and the solution is not achievable without both men and women working to solve it. The issues of discrimination or unequal treatment, cannot be solved by the group that gets discriminated against. If we think that way, progress and change will take another 30 years – or longer.
I have heard frustration from women who organize events with female managers, when men don’t attend. Or maybe it’s an article that gets ignored. I know I have been guilty of this in the past – it’s easy to think that type of event or article isn’t for men. However, it’s just as important for men, and arguably more so. Men work with women, work for women and manage women, so understanding the issues they deal with is vital to being a good co-worker, manager and person.
I think what changed my view on this was a Ted Talk with Jackson Katz entitled, Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue. This was a great speech and I encourage everyone to watch it. Now obviously violence against women is much more serious issue, but his basic argument can be applied to the #13percent issue.
Mr. Katz argues that men have to be active participants in solving violence against women, they have to understand what causes it, they have to combat those causes, and they have to change their view on how it affects them. The same is true of getting more women into Chief Administrative Officer positions in local government, men have to play an active role.
For men working in local government we can’t ignore the 13 percent issue, we have to be aware of it and we have to understand the causes behind it. Even though we might not feel the same workplace discrimination or societal pressures as women, understanding the causes behind fewer women becoming city managers will make us better managers and co-workers. I would argue that it is more important for us to listen to the experience of women because men do not feel the same discrimination and societal pressures, so the only way to understand what women experience is listening.
This is reflected in the #13percent hashtag. When ELGL chose that rallying cry it could have easily picked #ELGLwomen or #WomenInGov, but those phrases make it easier for men to write off the issue as a women’s issue. But 13 Percent, and similarly Mark Funkhouser’s “Our Missing Leaders,” signal that we’re all in on this and we all need to work toward a solution.
I challenge other men to see this as your issue too. See that it affects all of us not to have more women in the profession and not to have more women in top positions in local government. Do your part to understand the experience of women, by reading articles and listening to speakers, and then combat those things that cause women to leave the profession or stop them from advancing. It’s a men’s issue too.