Dara Richardson-Heron, MD, CEO of the YWCA, and the Tuesday afternoon ICMA Annual Conference featured speaker, emphasized the important of women finding their “unique leadership prescription.” She also talked about the 3 Ps women should develop to succeed:
- Patience—From the ripe old age of two, Dara thought she should be able to tell her sisters and parents what to do. She needed to develop the patience to become an adult, when she could put her propensity to lead to good use.
- Perspective—If, as women, we didn’t cultivate the ability to see things in perspective, life would become too overwhelming.
- Perseverance—At some point in our lives, we’ll face unexpected challenges that will rock us to our core. But if we hang in there, we can use those obstacles to build character.
Leadership is a journey, not an accomplishment, Dara said, and she uses her own personal leadership stories to illustrate her journey for others. She talked about her early career in the healthcare field, and how despite several promotions, she ended up working for a man who made it clear that he wasn’t interested in mentoring her, or even treating her with respect. Through perseverance, however, after just two-and-a-half years, she became the boss of a man who treated her so disrespectfully.
Rather than ask “Why me” when diagnosed with breast cancer, Dara began to ask “Why not me?” She told the audience, “When life serves you a curve ball, you really to have to put on your big girl pants and learn how to catch it.” She also discussed how women must find their passion and develop a strong personal or professional commitment to that thing that enables them to feel like they’re making a difference.
Today Dara leads YWCA, one of the largest and oldest multicultural organizations in the country. The Y embodies her passion for “promoting solutions to empower women, girls, families, and communities.”
From the report issued by the ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession, Dara observed that the local government management profession has some room for improvement. “The gains are clear, but the gaps are clearer.”
She referred to the fact that several ICMA studies (depending on which one you access) have estimated the percentage of women CAOs to be anywhere from 13 to 14.4 to 20 percent. But the bottom line is: that percentage should be closer to 50 percent.
Dara also cited fact that there have been only two women presidents during ICMA’s first 100 years.
- A great first step: follow the awesome road map laid out by the TF on Women in the Profession.
- Create family-friendly workplaces that don’t force women to make bad choices.
- Establish top-down targets.
- Encourage men to understand their role in helping to achieve gender balance.
- Avoid creating an environment that makes women feel uncomfortable and instead, recruit, develop, and help women realize their own potential.
Dara summarized by saying that ICMA has already laid a solid foundation for change. She encouraged the audience to think about the mark they want to leave on the world.