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Polco News & Knowledge

Bumping the Glass Ceiling

Women managers in local government still haven’t broken through

- By Tom Miller -

For generations, the pronoun for doctors and lawyers was “he.” In the last twenty years things changed. Most everyone would say “improved.” Recent statistics show that nearly half of all U.S. medical school graduates in 2014 were women and the same percentage applied to law school grads.

Despite these gains, the glass ceiling remains a problem. Less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. While local government provides better opportunities for women leaders than do Fortune 500 companies, among members of the International City and County Management Association (ICMA), women managers (chief administrators, deputies or assistants) number just under 1 in 4.

With efforts like those of the League of Women In Government (LWG), supporting and advancing women in local government leadership, the glass ceiling is only just cracking for aspiring women managers.

To address gender disparity, ICMA conducted a survey of over a thousand member managers. Answers regarding work-place environment, reported by National Research Center, highlighted the different perspectives of men and women in positions of leadership.

It seemed many male managers saw issues of opportunity for women through rose-tinted vision. Fewer male managers noticed discrimination against women managers than did women managers themselves. More than 1 in 4 women managers indicated seeing gender bias for local government professionals in formal roles and at conferences, while the same observation was reported by fewer than 1 in 10 male managers. Career advancement and hiring opportunities suffered gender bias according to at least 2 in 5 women and only half that number of men.

on gender bias


When it came to the question of career advancement, about half the male managers thought that women face more barriers than do men, while 4 in 5 women said that more barriers exist for women.


on barriers

As to solutions, about two-thirds of male managers felt that their organizations had made gender diversity a priority, but just under half of all women managers agreed.

On Priority

Responses show that male managers compared to their female counterparts don’t as often see gender inequity and more often assume that whatever problem exists is being handled.  However, the gap in reported experiences between men and women in local government, along with the low percentage of women holding positions of leadership in the field have not much changed over the last three decades.

Newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, gave the perfect response when asked why a gender-balanced cabinet was so important to him: “Because it’s 2015.”  It makes sense for all of today’s managers to look through clear lenses as they consider gender equity.  Effective leaders must work with both male and female colleagues to ensure opportunities and milieus that support the advancement of women in city management.


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National Research Center, Inc. ( NRC ) is a leading research and evaluation firm focusing on the information requirements of the public sector, including non-profit agencies, health care providers, foundations and local governments.  Visit our home on the Web at www.n-r-c.com.  Check out our blog for more news, tips and human-interest stories from NRC.

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