Leveling the playing field
Women in local government share advice at ICMA event
Rebecca Fleury, Village Manager of Middleville, shares with students her responsibilities in her respective organization. She covered topics such as leadership, public service, and economic development.
Grand Valley State University’s student chapter of International City/County Management Association (ICMA) hosted the event “Women in Local Government” on Monday.
Jason Escareno, president of ICMA, said this event was geared toward encouraging more women in the Master’s of Public Health program at GVSU to go into careers in local government.
“My female friends or counterparts in classes don’t even know the opportunities that exist for city management,” Escareno said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to embolden women to enter this field.”
The three women who spoke at the event, Penny Hill, Kara Wood and Rebecca Fleury, all have professional careers in local, small and large governments.
Hill is the Village Manager of Kalkaska in Northern Michigan. While elaborating on how she was appointed to the position she has now, she spoke about how she was not brought up to judge people on their race, ethnicity or gender, but instead on how well they do their job.
“To me it doesn’t seem natural to talk about being a woman in government,” Hill said. “The only times that I really think about it specifically are when it’s kind of brought forcibly to my attention.”
At one point in her career, Hill was acting manager of a city for two years, and when she applied for the permanent managing position, she was faced with some animosity toward her gender.
“One of the council members at the time, an elderly gentleman, met me outside of work and asked me ‘Why do you want to be a manager anyway? You should be at home, raising your children,’” she said.
Hill didn’t let comments like that bother her, as she was established in the position and her children weren’t suffering at all. Nonetheless, she had advice for women who are faced with discrimination.
“Be professional, be honest, hold yourself to a high standard, and remain neutral in politics,” Hill said. “Keep the discussion to the issues, relay the facts, give options, and try not to let other people’s politics sway your recommendations to your council.”
Fleury is the village manager of Middleville in West Michigan. Fleury shared similar stories about sexism in her workplace, but overall, she was optimistic about women’s roles in politics.
“The future for women in local government, I think, is very, very positive,” she said. “We see as a profession a focus now on collaboration, cooperation and consolidation. Women are great at that; it’s inherent in us to be collaborative.”
Wood is the director of economic development for the City of Grand Rapids. Wood had advice to offer for women planning to get into male-dominated professional environments.
“The best thing you can do there is just know your stuff,” she said. “Don’t go into the situation without having done your homework or at least reviewing the material. They won’t have respect for a woman that hasn’t prepared.”
Knowing the job responsibilities and maintaining professionalism is how women gain credibility in the workplace, Wood said.
“There are some women that are in the industry that don’t take a professional look at what they’re doing, and they giggle a lot and they dress cute and they flip their hair; that’s not a way to get any kind of credibility,” Wood said. “Those are the people who might get promoted for some reasons, but in the end they’re not going to be credible to everyone.”