Celebrating Women in Local Government: An Interview with Bonnie Svrcek

Mar 15, 2017 | ARTICLE
picture of Bonnie Svrcek ICMA past president and City Manager of Lynchburg, VA
Bonnie Svrcek. Photo Credit: City of Lynchburg, VA.

For only the second time in its history, in 2012 ICMA selected a woman as the organization’s president. Bonnie Svrcek, then deputy city manager of Lynchburg, Virginia (and also the first non-CAO to assume the top leadership role), took office at the ICMA Annual Conference in October 2012 and served a one-year term as president and another year as past president. 

Bonnie began her career in public service in 1980 as an assistant city representative for the city of Los Angeles’ Washington, D.C., office. She later served as a budget analyst in Fairfax County, Virginia, from 1985 to 1990, when she accepted the position of assistant town manager of Blacksburg, Virginia. Bonnie accepted the position of deputy city manager of Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1999, and was named manager in 2016.

Bonnie has also been an active member of the Virginia Local Government Management Association, serving as second vice-president, first vice-president, president-elect, and president (2005-06).

Bonnie earned designation as an ICMA Credentialed Manager in 2002. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master's of public administration from the University of Southern California Washington Public Affairs Center. In July 2011 she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Read more about Bonnie and her dedication and commitment to becoming a city manager in this article published in The News & Advance in May 2016.

ICMA Interview with Past President Bonnie Svrcek

ICMA: What was your initial reaction when you realized that you would become the second woman president of ICMA? 

BS:  I was incredibly honored and humbled to be the second female president and the first president to have never been a CAO. I was overwhelmed with pride and humility that I was chosen by my peers for this incredible responsibility.  I also thought, “Oh my gosh! Now what have I done?” Lots of joy, laughter, and happiness.


ICMA:  Which association achievement that took place during your term as ICMA president are you most proud of? 
BS:  It’s a tie between creating the Task Force on Women in the Profession and creating a goal to double the number of ICMA Student Chapters. 

ICMA:  While the exact percentages are arguable, the fact remains that there are significantly fewer women local government managers than there are men. What, in your opinion, is behind this discrepancy and how do you see the situation improving? 

BS:  First, the lack of anything remotely close to gender balance in CAO positions is quite deplorable. Being a CAO is an incredibly demanding job that requires a robust support system for women who are already filling full-time jobs as a mother and/or a daughter and spouse or partner. I think the situation will only improve if we continue to talk about the importance of gender balance in leadership with local elected officials.

The relatively new League of Women in Government is mission driven to facilitate the dialogue and narrative regarding the importance of gender balance in leadership. I encourage everyone to check out the Task Force on Women in the Profession report on the ICMA website and to subscribe to the League of Women in Government  website. And a shameless plug to all to attend the League of Women in Government Symposium, offered in partnership with ICMA, in San Antonio on October 21, the Saturday before the ICMA conference officially begins. It will be an epic opportunity to connect with women!


ICMA:  Why is it important for local governments to cultivate a diverse workforce? 

BS:  Our communities are stronger when they are led by men and women and persons of color and reflect the diversity of their communities. In the private sector it has been proven that mixed gender leadership leads to stronger profit margins. It would be great to see how we can prove the impact of mixed gender leadership in our communities!


ICMA:  It’s been said that high-achieving women “can’t have it all;” that those who want a family (or even a normal life) will eventually have to pull over and slow down or abandon their careers. Do you believe this is true, and if so, why?

BS:  I believe “having it all” is very situational; what does that mean anyway?  My “all” is likely different than my colleagues’ “all.”  I do not believe that careers need to be abandoned. I do believe that a robust support system needs to be in place for anyone to be successful in their career.


ICMA:  A lot has been made of the importance of women connecting with mentors of both genders as a strategy for career advancement. Can you talk about at least one individual who mentored you and the impact that person had on you and your career?

BS:  It is impossible for me to talk about just one individual who has been a mentor to me. Many of my mentors never knew they were my mentor until I told them. Throughout my career I have observed and sought out advice from many who have been successful in their career. I do not think there is a specific recipe for career advancement; so much of what we do is about timing. 


ICMA:  What advice would you give to a young woman who you’ve just hired to join your staff?

BS:  Be patient. Be your best self every day. Seek out opportunities to excel and be visible. Be curious. Challenge me by asking questions. Network. 


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