Reno City Manager Doug Thornley signs symbolic purple chair.
Reno City Manager Doug Thornley signs symbolic purple chair.

Over the past few years, the city of Reno has put forward a concerted effort in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organization. In September 2021, we implemented a monthly speaker series—“One City, Many Voices,” where speakers shared their lived experiences, along with group discussion, to help foster a stronger understanding of the community we serve.

As the series continued, staff was looking for additional opportunities to open discussions within our organization around the critical topic of inclusion. Upon hearing about ICMA’s Second Annual SheLeadsGov Virtual Forum on Resilience 2.0: Redefining Resilient Women in Local Government, we saw an opportunity. We planned a forum watch party to open up critical conversations about women in government. We also saw an opportunity to use technology to bring together employees from a variety of departments to experience the virtual forum, to network with one another, and to offer some in-person components as well.

An Engaging Hybrid Event

Once the #SheLeadsGov virtual forum’s schedule was available, we invited employees to participate in an in-person watch party at Reno City Hall, filled with thought-provoking and motivational speakers while also getting an opportunity to network with other employees. To enhance the experience, we added a networking breakfast, in-person mindfulness and wellness breaks, a facilitated discussion about what we heard from the speakers, and a networking lunch. Other ways we encouraged participant involvement included:

  • Creating stickers for the event that combined the city of Reno flag with the #SheLeadsGov hashtag.
  • Partnering with the Northern Nevada International Center to give out flowers to women who attended in honor of International Women’s Day.
  • Painting a chair purple—the official color of International Women’s Day—for people to sign.

Employee Interaction and Connection

In today’s world, many conferences and training sessions are now being held virtually. While they provide a convenient option for participants, oftentimes attendees are distracted as they multi-task with work responsibilities. We felt the content being provided in the SheLeadsGov program was important, so we wanted to provide an in-person opportunity to participate, allowing staff the chance to interact with coworkers on these critical topics.

Overall, we had 84 employees participate in the event from a variety of departments, including police, fire, public works, administration, municipal courts, civil service, information technology, development services, and even a couple of our city councilmembers participated! Approximately half of the participants were in-person and half of them virtual—and a quarter of the participants were men.

The Purple Folding Chair

One of the engagement ideas we had was to bring in a purple chair for people to sign. We were inspired by the “A Seat at the Table” exhibit that was inspired by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s words: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” We set the chair up and asked participants to sign it or put quotes on the chair related to the topic. The chair now sits in the lobby of city hall to provide a reminder of the importance of giving everyone a seat at the table.

The Future for Women at the City of Reno

We closed the program with a facilitated discussion about how we as an organization could better support women working in government. From that, we got a lot of great feedback from employees. This included everything from childcare support to guilt-free time off for wellness visits to changing the stigma about gaps in service time women may have due to starting a family or caring for a loved one.

The feedback was so meaningful that we have developed an internal group that meets on a regular basis to work on solutions to some of the issues raised and find better ways to support the careers of women in our organization.

Following the hybrid event, we asked three attendees to share their insight and takeaways from the day:

What was your favorite experience of the SheLeadsGov Virtual Forum?

Paula Hlade, Reno police department, victim services unit: I loved the motivation of the likeminded women who are all passionate about their jobs, but also passionate about creating a space for women to be seen, heard, and valued in the workplace. The speakers presented on relevant topics (pay differences, COVID, remote work) which was engaging and created great conversations after the event.

Grace Whited, associate planner, development services department: My favorite part of what I experienced was all the women who were there supporting other women. It was empowering to hear other women share their experiences and be able to relate to them.

Dawn Danen, management assistant, communications: The chair activities on the breaks, the discussion piece, and the networking lunch were all my favorites. The speaker content was absolutely amazing and it’s a close second. (Okay, I liked the whole thing but particularly the “local” pieces.)

How did the Reno SheLeadsGov watch party help you learn from and connect with women in your organization?

Hlade: It was great connecting with other successful women in roles of power in our organization who support others rather than competing against their female teammates.

Whited: It was empowering to see all the women there from the city of Reno who are passionate about women’s rights, and women in the workplace.

Danen: I had an opportunity to speak with people in depth that I had only previously spoken to in passing. We not only got to know each other better but also spoke about the conference and what touched us or had an impact.

Why is it important for organizations to support and promote women-focused events?

Hlade: Women thrive on support and validation more so than males. Events like this improve relationships among women leaders and help all of us see what is possible and know that the city supports our endeavors.

Whited: I think women have a unique challenge. Women have been violated, excluded, underestimated, and misrepresented. It can be exhausting to feel this way in your place of work, and so it is important to communicate to women in the workplace that they are valued and that their experiences are shared.

Danen: I have always thought that organizations should support all different walks of life. Not only for women, but awareness of lifestyles, cultures, and genders. I think it’s important that each person be able to see the perspective of others. It leads to a better environment and team all around when we can see “clearer.”

Headshot of Rebecca Venis


REBECCA VENIS is director of communications for Reno, Nevada.

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