Palm Beach County proves the value of female leadership, but Austin needed lessons

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 05:  Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles as she speaks at Rancho High School on May 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clinton said that any immigration reform would need to include a path to "full and equal citizenship."  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS, NV – MAY 05: Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles as she speaks at Rancho High School on May 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clinton said that any immigration reform would need to include a path to “full and equal citizenship.” (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A former local city manager traveled to Austin, Texas recently to help their city staff learn the finer points of working with women as Austin gets acquainted with its first female majority city council.

How to work with women. Yes, that’s right.

Palm Beach County government and staff already does it well, but let’s look at what happened in Austin first.

Jonathan K. Allen, who recently served as city manager in Lauderdale Lakes under an all-female commission, went to Austin in March to share his experiences working with female elected officials as Austin’s city employees make the transition.

The long-and-short of his guidance (which is ironic because as a woman, the concept of shortened summaries flows contrary to Allen’s first piece of advice):

  1. Women like to talk a lot and ask a lot of questions, so men must be patient with them.
  2. Women are not interested in numbers and math, so it will be best to shy away from financial analysis when making policy decisions.
  3. Thanks to Hillary Clinton (thank goodness women finally have a leadership role model!), more women will run for office and be in leadership positions.

That last point must be disheartening for men since the first two points make working with women seem very burdensome.

Allen said he learned first-hand how to communicate with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who asked him a flurry of questions on their way to a volleyball practice one day.

“In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said, according to the Austin American-Statesmen. So he had to be patient with her.

Verdenia C. Baker, left, was selected as the new Palm Beach County Administrator to succeed Robert Weisman, right, during proceedings of the Palm Beach County Commission in West Palm Beach on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Verdenia C. Baker, left, was selected as the new Palm Beach County Administrator to succeed Robert Weisman, right, during proceedings of the Palm Beach County Commission in West Palm Beach on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Allen said he used the same approach with the women he worked for in Lauderdale Lakes, as they were less likely to read the agenda items and simply ask him to explain everything to them.

The same went for discussing the financial items with his female commissioners, whom Allen said didn’t “want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community,” according to the Statesman. So in order to get items to pass, he had to learn to talk around the numbers.

“If you use or attempt to use the same communication or management techniques that you used or attempted to use in a predominantly male-dominated environment, you will be making a serious error in your professional development, because they don’t process things the same way,” Allen said in the session.

By comparison, a key component in my role as a Digital Editor for The Post is analyzing statistical data on the work we do. And again, I’m a woman.

Despite Allen’s expertise in working for female leaders, he was terminated from his role as Lauderdale Lakes city manager in April after a 3-2 vote, when Vice Mayor Beverly Williams said it was time to move on, saying city leadership and Allen had different visions for the future.

“We’re inundated with gas stations,” Williams told the Sun Sentinel. “I don’t have a vision for that.”

And Williams wasn’t as disinterested in figures as Allen would’ve had his audience believe.

“I read everything. I am concerned about our financial statements. I do ask a lot of questions and expect a lot of answers,” Williams told the Associated Press.

Lauderdale Lakes’ commission and Allen eventually agreed on calling the termination a mutual separation of employment, with Allen receiving a severance package of $182,568 that included severance pay, unused paid time off, Social Security and health insurance, according to the Sun Sentinel.

Thanks to the Sun Sentinel for doing the math for me because as a woman, I may not have been able to figure that out or even wanted to. It was probably a man.

But staffers attending the Austin training session didn’t just hear from Allen. They also heard from another local: Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart is a Hollywood-based management consultant who discussed the differences between men and women by citing examples from the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

Yes, that actually happened.

According to the Statesmen, Burk-Stewart highlighted the many differences between men and women. Echoing Allen, she said men think women ask too many questions and communicate less than women.

Austin City Manager Marc Ott has apologized for the training session and had the video removed from the city’s website. Austin’s new councilwomen, however, are asking why such a training was even done.

“All of these women can do math. All of these women understand how to make financial decisions,” Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair told the Associated Press.

Palm Beach County staffers clearly do not need similar training. Verdenia Baker was chosen this week as the new County Administrator following a nationwide search, reporting to a female-majority county commission. And no additional training was needed.

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