The Austin City Council is, for the first time, composed of mostly women— there are now seven women and four men. So, the city manager thought it might be a good idea to offer training to city staff members who will regularly be working with the women. The session was called "The Changing Dynamics in Governance: Women Leading in Local Government." So far, nothing overtly objectionable.
But then presenter Jonathan K. Allen started speaking.
The assertions made by Allen were that women ask more questions, don't understand numbers, talk more, and don't read reports. He said you needed to be patient with women, something he learned from his 11-year-old daughter. You can see some of the original footage from the presentation in the video above. (Interestingly, Allen had been a city manager for the small town of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, where he was fired from his position by an all-woman city council).
Women in Texas (and elsewhere) were offended, and the new city councilwomen were none-too-pleased: "I would be just as offended if [the seminar] was 'How to work with Hispanics," said council member Delia Garza, pointing out exactly why so many people were frustrated with the situation.
Most importantly, there's no data to back up that men and women govern differently.
Emily Amanatullah, who studies gender issues and is an assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, told the Austin-American Statesman, "There is no blanket 'men are like this, women are like that.' In certain contexts, you might see differences, but it’s not necessarily based on biological differences."
Amanatullah also made the most sensible point anyone has during this whole story, which is that if you're doing what amounts to sensitivity training, it's always more effective to acknowledge that there are always more differences between two different people than two genders (the same could be said for other ways people are stereotyped, like race). Focusing on differences in leadership style, past experience, or personality can be useful in creating an office culture that works together well. The idea is "Treating people as individuals rather than stereotypes," Amanatullah said.
Do we still need to be reminded of that basic fact in 2015? Apparently so.
This story matters, because women's participation in political office is only going to increase over the coming years. Even Allen knows that. He said, "If Hillary Clinton ... runs for the office, you are going to see even greater numbers in leadership position; if she wins, you will see even greater numbers ..."
Related on MNN:
- Girl Scouts launch a campaign to help girls become leaders
- Why Janet Yellen's Federal Reserve nomination is a big deal
- This dollhouse inspires young girls to be engineers