With the Nov. 5 election right around the corner, the Michigan Municipal League is pushing to include more women in local government.
In East Lansing, six candidates are running for three City Council positions. Two are women. According to league employee Emily Kieliszewski, elected officials make the hiring decisions for top local government positions, including city manager.
“It’s the elected officials, like city councils, that end up making the hiring position for that chief spot,” said Kieliszewski.
As membership engagement specialist for the Michigan Municipal League, Kieliszewski connects cities and townships with services. She says what local government needs is more women in top positions.
The Michigan Municipal League, along with Kieliszewski, has created a program to help prepare women for government leadership roles. The 16/50 Project was started in 2018, after data showed a disparity between the number of women living and voting in the state and the number in government leadership roles.
According to City of Lansing data from the 2016 Primary Election, female voters outnumbered their male counterparts in almost every precinct. According to the Michigan Municipal League, however, female voter participation isn’t indicative of the level of involvement in government leadership roles.
“We had looked at some internal data about the number of women who served in chief administrative official roles in our municipalities,” said Kieliszewski. “We were really shocked that women make up over 50% of the state’s population, but only 16% of our chief local government roles.”
The 16/50 Project is attempting to increase the percentage of women city managers, township superintendents and county administrators. It is starting with the education and awareness of already elected officials.
“We are focused on increasing the awareness of elected officials about gender bias that they might have in the hiring process,” said Kieliszewski. “To do this, we provide newly elected officials training starting within weeks of the election.”
The project is also focusing on leadership training for women through the Women’s Municipal Leadership Program. This five-month training includes panels of current city managers, executive coaches, and mock interviews.
“We try to focus on topics that we’ve heard before,” said Kieliszewski. “Women who are currently in the field let us know what would have helped them when they started.”
Currently the program is in its second round, with the first class having graduated just last March.
“We had a class of 24 who received certificates in March,” said Kieliszewski. “In the months since they’ve completed the program, we’ve had five women from that class go on to municipal management roles, which is almost 20% of the initial class. It has been incredibly meaningful to see that change begin.”