By Karen Daly, regional director, ICMA Mountain Plains and Patricia Vinchesi, regional director, ICMA Northeast
It’s a headline that is seen more frequently and making history in a lot of states: all female councils and boards elected to lead their communities. In cities like Federal Heights, Colorado; Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania; and Las Cruces, New Mexico, the entire elected body is composed of women. And there are many other cities and towns with a majority and increasingly, a supermajority, of female elected officials. And it got us thinking: does this change the landscape for decision-making on who is hired to run a local government?
As the shift in elected gender representation becomes more balanced, will the appointments of women as the chief executive or administrative officer also begin to increase? Indeed, there are definitely signs that this is occurring, and we are hoping more research in the area will provide insight as to the cause and impact of this trend. Right now we can share some anecdotal information. We asked GovHRUSA executive recruiter Heidi Voorhees what she is seeing in the field and we are including some of our own personal experiences as city managers.
Is having a majority presence of elected women a new thing?
While women have been running for local elected office for decades, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of women holding a majority of elected positions in some localities for the first time. For example, Long Beach, New York, population 33,507, has a female majority and council president for the first time in its history.
Tricia: Up until recently, in many states women have achieved much more recognition in statewide elected positions than having major plurality at the local level. That has changed with more majority-led board and committees. In Amherst, Massachusetts, the newly sworn in 13-member council has 12 female members, including three persons of color.
While I was the first female administrator after seven previous managers in my last municipal position in Massachusetts, it was only in my eighth and final year where there was a woman on the board. Fast forward five years and the board is now a majority of women after having had no female board representation for well over a decade.
With these trends, will councils with more female representation swing the pendulum toward a push for more diverse and wider spectrum of candidates for city/town manager?
Karen: In 2017, when I was applying for a city manager position in Texas, the city council was majority female, and the mayor was female. At that point, I had 28 years in local government, and this was my first experience with a majority female council. In addition, both of the finalists for city manager were women. After being hired, I walked into an environment where the support and encouragement was highly evident and palpable. But best of all, that mayor truly led the city council so that encouragement was not just from the women.
Heidi: We are working with communities with a majority of female elected leadership, in particular the mayor. St. Charles, Illinois (pop, 32,686), hired its first female city administrator, Heather McGuire, in 2021. In Mamaroneck, New York (pop. 29,563), the majority female board hired an experienced manager, Meredith Robson. In Bangor, Maine (pop. 32,000), the majority female board promoted the assistant city manager, Debbie Laurie, to succeed Cathy Conlow, who left to go on to head the Maine Municipal Association. There are similar examples where the mayor, the majority of council, and the manager are all female: Webster Groves, Missouri; St. Louis Park, Minnesota; and Knoxville, Iowa. The all-women board of supervisors in Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania, just named its township manager, Centrice Martin. And finally, the firsts continue in Long Beach, New York, where the city council hired its first female city manager, Donna Gayden, who is also a person of color.
We think this is a trend worth following. You can help by keeping us posted.
Pre-register for luncheons focused on SheLeadsGov, Equity and Inclusion, and other special session at ICMA 2022 Annual Conference.