“Why are you leading this project?” It was several years ago when a manager in finance asked me this question in an accusatory tone while we were meeting one-on-one about a particularly difficult project I was managing. I almost laughed because it was so rude, but my breath was sucked out of my chest for a moment.
This is not the most offensive thing that has been said to me in my career, and it doesn’t even come close to microaggressions experienced by others. But it was a particularly bad day for me, and it hurt. When I was able to breathe, I said something about my generalist background and my strategic view of the organization.
And when I walked away, I couldn’t believe how well I handled it. I have been able to navigate the several times in my career when my authority, experience, and talent have been questioned (before I prove them wrong) because I am armed with a team of supporters who remind me of all my “wins” and hard work.
Imposter syndrome is well-documented and being a generalist in city management sets you up for a heavy dose. I am a woman who is often younger than the people I work with (for now) and am leading initiatives and projects that encompass topics I am not yet an expert in. Mix these things together and you have a particularly bad recipe for imposter syndrome.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling or in people pointing out that someone doesn’t look or act like the leader they expected. It is very important for our city decision-makers to be diverse and reflect our communities and for that to happen we need to own our leadership and ask what we are doing to support others. Who else is getting asked “Why you?” and what can we do to support them?
I feel strongly there is great work to be done in equity and inclusion in local government, and I’m glad to see it front and center this year. I applaud the work that ICMA has accomplished by changing our bylaws to be more inclusive. I have enjoyed seeing CivicPRIDE grow over the last few years and have loved hearing “Stories of Pride” where LGBTQIA+ folks are sharing stories of serving their communities. I am proud of Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) for continuing to be a leader in tracking and reporting on demographics in local government with the Diversity Dashboard.
Working together, we can keep this momentum going and positively impact our profession. I urge you all to continue your work in striving for more equitable organizations—both ICMA and your own city or county.
For me, it takes a team, my professional organizations, my city, my parents, my partner, my friends, my kids, and my colleagues for me to feel confident in the face of challenges and detractors. I am a straight, cis, white, able-bodied female who has faced only a fraction of what others have and it takes a village. Let’s all find ways to be part of someone’s team, especially for people who have less privilege than ourselves. Who should you reach out to remind them why they are leading and why they are so valuable to their community?