The Gender Gap Is Weird: A Deeper Dive Into Sacramento's City Government
I was recently accepted into the "City Management Academy" here in Sacramento.
This is a program offered by the city to help better inform its residents of the inner workings of city government. I’m such a nerd that I am deeply enthralled with each passing class… but I’m not here to talk about the academy. I’m here to talk about something that struck me during our first meeting when we were given an organizational chart of city leadership.
Stay with me here, I promise to make this interesting.
Here’s a brief overview for those who may need a refresher: we have a nine-member City Council which includes one person elected from each of eight districts and the Mayor. Directly under the Mayor and the Council are five positions which include Budget Analyst, City Auditor, City Attorney, City Clerk, City Manager, and City Treasurer, and below each one of those positions is a slew of operational and support departments.
Alright, we’re up to speed. Now let’s focus on something compelling.
As I took a closer look at the chart, I couldn’t help but notice that something seemed off. Out of the six positions under the Mayor and Council, only one is held by a woman (and the remaining five names all start with the letter “J” and three of them are “John”, but that’s a story for another time). Also, of our nine-member City Council, only one member is female.
This made me curious.
I started digging around and realized that it didn’t seem anyone had really looked into this disparity before. Google searches revealed little information and after several calls and transfers to various city departments, I began to piece together ancient PDF forms and antiquated records to reveal a deep gender divide within leadership in the city. Tracing back as far as records would allow, I found some interesting insights.
There have been only four female Mayors (about 7 percent), two female City Attorneys (about 4 percent) and not one female City Manager or Budget Analyst, ever. In fact, if you look at positions directly below the City Manager you’ll see only one out of eight Directors is a woman and it’s not until you reach the “support” roles below them that you start to see that change.
When I broke down the numbers to include the City Council, the Mayor and positions directly beneath them, women occupy only about 13 percent of these leadership roles in city government in Sacramento.
So, what about boards and commissions?
I looked at every city board and commission in Sacramento and started calculating the number of women participating (accounting for vacancies). I found that about 40 percent of overall board members and commissioners are women, which is a good sign. However, when I asked around to determine which of these have decision-making power, we see a different story.
For instance, the Planning and Design Commission (considered one of the most influential) only has about 16 percent female participation.
It’s easy to overlook the disparity when studying gender equity because when we look at the aggregate of employees in a system it is often a fairly equal representation of men and women. It’s only when focusing on leadership roles in particular that we see a much higher concentration of men. This is also true in state-level government and in the much of the private sector.
So, why does this matter?
There have been studies that have looked at the economic impacts of under-representing half of the labor pool, as well as research on the financial benefits of gender parity in making businesses more successful. There have also been studies outlining the tangible benefits of having more women elected leaders and in positions of power in government. I personally think there is also something to be said for quality of life benefits that extend beyond a number.
When we have a lack of representation, we lack perspective. That lack of perspective permeates into the decision-making processes that affect us all in our day-to-day lives including how cities are planned and managed, how money is spent and how codes are enforced.
Imagine how these could be different with more diverse perspectives.
Sometimes it doesn’t really sink in until it’s in front of our eyes. We walk around and see women in equal numbers among us, yet we’ve become so accustomed seeing men in leadership roles that it is the norm. Because of this long-ingrained status quo, when we look at a City Council with only one woman, we don’t think it’s weird. When only one woman occupies a leadership role below that Council, we don’t think it’s weird. When the boards and commissions that have decision-making authority are disproportionately men, we don’t think it’s weird.
And I think it’s weird that we don’t think it’s weird.
Seriously, imagine everyday scenarios like grocery shopping or grabbing lunch at a nearby restaurant. It would be noticeably different if the entire place was filled with solely men or solely women. So, we should ask ourselves: why is this not the case in board rooms, City Hall and many other places where decisions that affect our everyday lives are made?
It’s just weird, and, as a GenderAvenger, I’m ready to see that change.
It’s time to start empowering women to run for office, to participate on boards and commissions, to be leaders in our communities and our careers — and above all, to be a voice for a better Sacramento.