Category Archives: Women

Reflections on the 2016 KU Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference

Comments submitted by Melody Henning, MPA Student

Students & sponsors of student seats at the 2016 KU Inspiring Women at Public Administration conference. Thank you sponsors! (Melody Henning, the author of this blog article, is not pictured.)
© Dan Videtich Photography with full usage granted to University of Kansas

There was an incredible amount of insight shared with the participants of the 2016 KU Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference that should be shared widely. The speakers and panelists have all achieved high levels of success in their respective positions, and participants were fortunate to have a chance to learn from their experiences. The stories they told were indeed inspiring – from women who were the first females in traditionally male roles of correctional officer, firefighter, insurance commissioner, chancellor, state auditor – to those who lead through research, consulting, city management, and through the voice they give to so many others. These women have paved the way, and through the knowledge they shared, we discover how they do it.

Here are some of my main takeaways from this incredible group of women:

  • Take any advantage you have and make the most of it. – Julia Novak
  • The missing 33% of career advice for women is business, strategic, and financial acumen. In other words, understand the business, where it’s going, and your role in taking it there. – Susan Colantuono’s TedTalk “Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get”
  • Collaborate, share and ask for women’s input, rather than waiting for them to chime in. Have courageous conversations. Be mentors and role models, and understand the reciprocal benefits of these relationships. Find your voice and elevate it. – Dr. Mary Banwart
  • Find mentors, take risks, and assume authority. When things go wrong, own it. Socialize success, privatize loss. In other words, take the hit for your team and share the joys. – Kathleen Sebelius
  • I’m not what I’ve done – I’m what I’ve overcome. Strategies to develop resiliency: practice self-awareness, seek feedback, know what you believe in and foster the right organizational values, establish and articulate specific goals, embrace calculated risks and rebound with confidence, balance optimism and realism, pay attention to relationships, recognize what is within your control and what is not, think positively, learn and move on, give yourself one affirmation a day, visualize where you want to go, declare and believe in what you want to do, be open to listening to yourself, your family, and those around you. – Patricia Martel
  • Listen. Be a change agent, set the tone, become the expert, take initiative, and be careful on social media. – Betsy Gillespie

This list is in no way an exhaustive list of all the insights that were shared. The most powerful lessons were through the stories these women told – and those who were in the room can count themselves extremely fortunate to have heard them first-hand. A day spent among these remarkable women has left me with a sense of responsibility to use my privilege to continue these conversations, to appreciate the endeavors of those who have come before me, and to keep striving to achieve success not just for myself and my family, but for every woman who serves society but is never privileged enough to find this agency, this voice, and this power.

Lessons Learned from Defining Moments

By Bonnie Svrcek
Deputy City Manager, City of Lynchburg, Virginia & President, International City/County Management Association (2012-2013)

  • Be courageous
  • Ask for advice
  • Say “yes” with pleasure and “no” with compassion
  • Be patient
  • Patience pays off
  • Things are not always what they seem
  • Be mindful of ego
  • Be self-aware
  • Take time to take stock in where you are (personally and professionally) at least annually
  • Choose wisely! (from Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In”)
  • Understand that some of our greatest lessons come from disappointments
  • Always have a Plan B!
  • Exercise courage in executing Plan B (or any plan!)
  • Take time to recover from disappointment
  • Seize the moment
  • Find moments for crucial conversations
  • Exercise personal humility and professional will at all times (from Jim Collins, Good to Great)

Bonnie was one of the keynote speakers for the KU Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference in 2013. She was kind enough to share these thoughts with us to post on our blog.

Reflections on KU Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference – Sharon Riley

Comments submitted by Sharon Riley, KU Libraries

The KU Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference was both empowering and enlightening. One part that especially resonated with me was the importance and power of building relationships in our career. Relationships matter, and those that you build through camaraderie, teamwork, or simply sharing a business card and a story can have reverberations to your work life you may never expect.

And speaking of camaraderie – there was plenty to be had at the Conference. One of my fellow tablemates confessed that she usually didn’t attend such conferences as she always felt a bit intimidated and too shy, so it was great to cheer her on as she was the spokes-person at the microphone for our group’s share-outs! I also loved how Kay Waldo Barnes told about constructing her own doctorate recently as an Independent Scholar – her speech was incredibly inspiring – and both she and Sandy Praeger put into perspective how far women have come.

The panel speakers were open and candid in sharing their challenges (or “hiccups” as Patty Hilderbrand called them) as well as successes. Their personal stories of how they dealt with challenges and built on successes were potent narratives that spoke to me in rich, informative ways. While there was so much great information, I had a few personal takeaways. “Enjoy the mystery” – one of the panelists spoke about how her career was not planned but reminded us to “say yes” to things. Another panelist spoke about the importance of not letting fear drive our decisions and another shared her formula for staying in balance by including, in addition to career goals: “faith, family,  FUN  and giving back to the community.” We were encouraged to “be courageous,” “ask for advice,” and “say yes with pleasure and no with compassion.”

But my favorite was the reminder to keep asking the question: “How do I measure success?” This may not look like anyone else’s version, and that’s okay. We each have our own unique journey and sharing this journey with a lot of other truly inspirational women, made for one fabulous day.

Reflections on Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference: Katherine Carttar

By Katherine Carttar (KU MPA 2012) & Margaret Mahoney (KU MPA 2012)

The 36 year hiatus after the first women’s conference has almost been forgiven as the second “Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference” in two years displayed real potential for the conference to become a nationally-recognized and attended annual event. Over 150 women and a handful of men attended the one day event hosted by the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration and KU Public Management Center on the K-State Olathe campus. Dynamic speakers, such as Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios, inspired us to take every opportunity to empower the women around us. International attendees from Middle Eastern countries, at KU for a month taking classes with the KU Women’s Leadership Institute, helped us view our environment through a new lens. Their awestruck reaction to seeing a woman in a police uniform [Ellen Hanson, Chief of Police for the City of Lenexa, KS] illustrates how far we have come, but the fact that there was only one woman in uniform in attendance also shows how far we still have to go. As we participated in thought-provoking roundtable discussions and good conversation, common themes began to emerge as issues important to women in public administration.

One of the recurring themes throughout the day was the need for civility as professionals in public service. The topic was addressed in the morning panel and in both the morning and afternoon breakout groups. Julia Novak, President of The Novak Consulting Group, gave some great advice on the topic of how to handle incivility. She pointed out the need for more deliberation and less debate. Deliberation is a skill that we can all learn and practice, and it includes using negotiation and compromise. As a leader, you set the tone—so don’t allow incivility, don’t do it, and practice respect. This advice was echoed by Beth Linn, City Administrator with the City of Edgerton, who stated that we should lead by example and treat others with respect. Karen Davis, Senior Management Advisor with Management Partners Inc. and conference Chair, also noted the importance of diffusing incivility up front—do not assume it will get better as time goes by. Incivility is an unpleasant reality faced by many public service professionals, but with this advice it can be dealt with proactively and professionally.

The importance of honing the skill of good communication was referenced repeatedly throughout the day. In a morning breakout session, Sheryl Sculley, City Manager of Antonio, TX, described communication as a necessary skill to acquire in order to make the leap to the top. Women especially need a confident presence and the ability to speak assertively, while remaining willing to learn and be coached. Women have a tendency to wait for projects and promotions to be offered but we must become more comfortable with asking for what we want professionally. Mary Birch, Government Relations Coordinator at Lathrop & Gage LLP, took the necessity of good communication skills a step further. Collaboration and leadership are both achieved through communication. The best way to solve a complex issue is by taking the time to discuss it face-to-face but be sure to arm yourself with the objective facts, research, and data to achieve the best solution. In addition, the ability to convey a clear, concise, and compelling plan results in leadership that inspires and instills hope.

Professional Development
It is a good reminder to all of us to continue our professional development and education. For many of us, we have the great resources available through KU for continuing education and lifelong learning, but wherever you work, don’t be afraid to ask your employer to attend conferences and take classes. Moreover, encouraging education for your employees is critical. As Susan Stanton, Principal at SMS Consulting, points out, the public sector needs to act more like the private sector in recognizing that human capital is the most valuable asset. Sheryl Sculley also suggests doing a lot of different types of work early in your career to get a variety of experience and learn new skills. Jewell Scott, Executive Director of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, also suggests “going into orbit” every day—pick up a magazine, newspaper, watch the news, learn about something new—rather than “ossify” in our own narrow part of the world. Opening up to new experiences and paying attention to the world around us not only allows continual growth both personally and professionally, but it allows us to be more creative and innovative.

Every business in every sector must find a way to innovate or eventually perish. Much of the success in the private sector is a result of fearless innovation. These businesses plan ahead for every scenario so that an unsuccessful innovative gamble will rarely bankrupt them but rather provide information to ensure the following variation is a success. The act of receiving tax payer money has turned the public sector into followers and late adopters of efficiency increasing trends. In the afternoon keynote, Susan Stanton challenged public sector administrators to get out of the comfort zone of following and start taking risks by becoming true innovators. Public administrators are notorious for automating the same old process and calling it innovation. The real innovation needed in government is a total shake-up of organizational design to function across jurisdictions and allow the government to act proactively instead of always reactively. Unfortunately, with true innovation comes failure, which is not accepted in the public sector. As citizens and in our professional capacity, we must be willing to accept some amount of failure as it is an important aspect of success and progress.

Importance of Mentors
It is impossible to attend a conference today where the importance of mentors is not touted. While “mentor” may be a current conference buzzword, there is no disputing the validity of this advice. Karen Davis described mentors as a foundation for support and a person to approach for honest feedback. Mary Birch reminded mentors that they can get as much or more out of the relationship since it is only a matter of time before the mentor becomes the mentee. Treasurer Rios viewed the mentor relationship more broadly. She encouraged the women in the conference to establish informal foundation that supports women because it is our job is to inspire the next generation and create the conditions where women can succeed. It is important to view past and current challenges as women in public administration as an investment for future generations rather than a sacrifice. All forms of mentorship can result in profound and unexpected benefits for those on either side of the relationship.

Life Balance
As professionals, wives, mothers, friends, daughters, and the countless other roles that woman play, how do we stay balanced and live up to our own expectations and the expectations of others? Treasurer Rios suggests using a “pie of life” to describe what “having it all” means to a woman. Quite simply, you define what kind of pie you have and what goes in it. She advises us to let go of guilt and individually define what “having it all” means and also to remember that the pie will change. Susan Stanton suggested a similar approach—finding balance in your life by aiming for a balance in the totality of life. It may not be perfectly balanced at this moment, but it will be balanced overall.

Throughout the day of the conference a variety of topics were discussed, but one common theme to all of them is the importance and impact of women in public service today and into the future. The conference allowed us to take a moment in our busy lives to come to together to realize how far we, as women, have come, and how much further we have to go. Relationships with mentors and forming our own networks are critical to empowering each other, as well as utilizing effective communication and creativity. This conference is a great first step toward enacting these themes in our daily lives to improve our professional performance and personal wellness, and we encourage everyone to attend in the future.

FDIC chair and KU grad Sheila Bair to give 2010 Dole Lecture

Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and University of Kansas alumna, will give the 2010 Dole Lecture. The free event is open to the public and is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 19, at the Dole Institute of Politics. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Bair has spent most of her professional life in public service, beginning her career as a civil rights attorney in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 2007, Bair warned of the impending sub-prime mortgage crisis. Bair organized a meeting to persuade financial institutions to reduce monthly payments, but bank investors were not convinced.

Forbes magazine named Bair the second most powerful woman in the world in 2008 and 2009 for her role as chair. She also made Time magazine’s “Time 100” list of the most influential people of 2009.

Read more about Bair and the Dole lecture.

Women’s Leadership Lecture: An Evening with Janet and Mary Murguia

Thursday, February 25th, 7:30pm
Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union, Lawrence

The Hall Center at KU is sponsoring this event, highlighting sisters who have dedicated their lives to public service. Janet Murguia is President and CEO of National Council of La Raza, and Mary Murguia is a U.S. District Court Judge.

More details about the programs and the Murguias’ backgrounds are available here.