Push/Pull: Closing Out the Push/Pull Analysis

Posted on June 25, 2015


Low Res-3674We started the #Push/Pull exploration as a follow up to ELGL’s Glacial Pace and ICMA’sWomen_Leading_Government articles. The percent of women leading local government organizations has not increased from 1984 until today. The Push/Pull series has been Kim Sandoval’s attempt to discover where those leaving local government service – both women and men – have gone.

My target demographic when I wrote this survey was ‘local government leavers’ across all generations. During my career I have had the opportunity to work with many public servants, some who have left the field. My intention was to investigate and quantify those reasons and assess the degree to which leavers have contributed to the 13% issue in leadership.
In this survey I have received feedback and responses from 135 passionate public servants. The data summarizing the majorities from this group are as follows:

  • White: 80%
  • Female: 72%
  • MPA/MPP: 48%
  • Level Served: “Other”: 39%
  • From the state of: Oregon: 23%
  • Time Served in Previous Local Government Role: 1-3 years: 37%
  • Now serving in: Local Government – Different Role: 23% and Consulting – Related to Government: 18%

Females 5 years
There were also retirees and respondents that had served over 10 years – so our respondents crossed generations and levels. Unfortunately, our overall numbers for those that have longer tenures in their last local government role were not large enough to draw a definitive conclusion. However, the responses – from both females and males – were positive, as the two graphs show. Of these respondents that had served longer than 5 ¼ years in their last local role, we have more that would consider government leadership than would not.
Males 5 years
When asked why they’d return, many respondents cited the rewards and positive attributes of public service careers. The following are just a couple:

  • “Passion for local government and public involvement and advocacy”
  • “I enjoyed working for and with the public – Giving back to community by assisting them with questions.”

Respondents’ additional thoughts covered a variety of topics. Some made comments about perceived favoritism while others discussed the challenges of being recognized:

  • “In general, it seems that people are not promoted because of integrity, work ethic or expert knowledge, but instead based on length of time worked and who they know.”
  • “Government treats everybody the same. Cannot retain great people if you don’t treat them well.”
  • “…gov(ernment) drives people away by following age old rules and reg(ulations) not allowing for advancement…”

Lack of opportunity for advancement and development was a topic that several respondents mentioned.
One respondent stated: “There were not ample opportunities in local government in order to take on further responsibility. Wish there would have been room for advancement.”
The good news is that there are female (and male) current and former local government employees that aspire to lead. The question becomes how will local governments structure their retention and recruiting efforts to keep this group interested? And will they consider bringing back leavers with leadership potential?
As we continue to discuss and evaluate women in leadership, not just in local government but in all fields, we need to understand that this is not just about a new feminism route. It’s about improving the effectiveness and efficiencies of all our organizations by bringing in additional perspectives.
Women should not be given positions over men simply because of their gender any more than men would want to secure their role only because of gender. We need to work together to find common, or complimentary, bonds in our fields that can further strengthen our service to the public.
At the same time, we all provide leadership when we work in government. A recent ICMA task force addresses this point in Leadership in Local Government. Additional research into the qualities of leaders was presented during the 100th ICMA Conference in The Personal and Pshychological Characteristics that Define Leaders. The authors further shared the work at regional summits in Tools for The Balancing Act. If you’re interested in leadership, these documents are worth review. As women and men develop in their local government careers, they’ll need appropriate leadership abilities regardless of their level.
For aspiring leaders, here are a few recommendations –

  1. If you’re still trying to find your right fit – explore. Read a book like Strengths Finder 2.0 as Bobbi Nance recommended in her post. Alternatively, check out the Department of Labor’s O*Net website. This is a free assessment resource that we use with our scholarship recipients but it’s available for anyone.
  2. Lead at your level. Take ownership and pride in whatever you’re doing and be willing to take on roles that others
  3. Talk to leaders that inspire you – be sure not to take too much of their time, but ask clear, concise questions that can help you in your future.
  4. When you’re searching for a job, if you still have lingering questions when the offer comes through – ask them. If you’re uncertain whether or not the role or organization will be a good fit for you, take the time to ask those two or three extra questions. In the long run, it’ll be time well spent for you, the hiring manager and organization.

For those already in leadership – consider if job swaps might be beneficial to your agency and current employees. This approach may not be possible in all organizations but can provide opportunities for growth and development for future leaders. What other approaches have you used to keep employees engaged? We’d love to hear your stories.
I want to reiterate my appreciation to ELGL and the Alliance for Innovation for distribution and support of this survey. There has been some remarkable feedback. I believe this group of respondents has illustrated that there are both forces that push people out, as well as reasons for people being pulled away. We’ve also shown there is room for additional research about local government leavers.
The need for development, retention and recruitment in local government over the next years has already been established. It will be interesting to see how various local governments accomplish this. It is my hope that when we look at demographics again in 2020 & 2025 that we will see local government leadership that more closely mirrors the public that we serve.
Related readings and links


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