Local Government Magazine

Why local government needs more female leaders

Pat Martel, president of the Washington, DC-based International City / County Management Association (ICMA), calls for greater representation of women in the upper echelons of local authorities.

Pat, who is only the third female ICMA president in its 102-year history, says only around 13 percent of chief administrative officers – the US equivalent of New Zealand’s CEOs – are women. Speaking at the 2015 SOLGM Summit in Palmerston North recently, Pat says that figure grows to about 19 percent when assistant CAOs are included.

An ICMA taskforce report back in 1976 revealed similarly low levels of advancement for women in the profession. “The needle hasn’t moved,” she says.

ICMA has membership in 42 countries around the world including 8000 members in the US alone.

Pat is making the advancement of women in the profession a key priority during her one-year term as ICMA president. “Not just because I’m a woman and not just because I believe it’s important that aspiring young leaders see people with diverse backgrounds – diverse genders, cultural and racial backgrounds – but it’s important because the world is changing.”

She says the local government profession is going to evolve significantly in the next five, 10 to 20 years as the current cohort of older, predominantly white, baby boomer men retire and it needs to stay relevant to demographic changes.

“One of the cornerstones of ICMA is that we as professionals must be able to reflect the communities that we serve and clearly the association does not do that because 50 percent of the workforce in the US is made up of women.

“There’s a lot of work ahead and paving the way for future leaders is very important.”

Pat says women in senior positions in local government serve as role models for others.

“Many women think it’s impossible to lead the ICMA or their communities across the country and in different parts of the world.

“My challenge is we need to reach 50 percent of women in the profession. We have to have gender balance.”

She is keen to pay tribute to the many good men already in leadership roles at local authorities.

“Women in this profession have helped to redefine leadership because women as leaders are different… not better, not worse, just different… We can help to generate that creative, innovative approach that’s so urgently needed in our public institutions today.”

It is understood that in New Zealand a similar figure of around 13 percent of CEs are female.

This article was first published in the December 2015 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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