Strength in Diversity. Diversity in Strengths.

"Women should not wait to be asked. If not you, then who? Aim for the top and be the leader you want to follow." —Jan Perkins 

BLOG POST | Aug 3, 2017
Dr. Monika Black

From the keynote to the wrap up, the Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference presented by the University of Kansas (KU) and sponsored by ICMA had many amazing moments. Almost 200 women at all levels within the local government management profession attended this year's event in July exploring perspectives on diversity and discussing the ways our differences make us stronger leaders and help us build stronger organizations. Attendees reflected on ways “to consciously prepare ourselves to create workplaces that reflect our communities and embrace the variety of experiences we bring, recognizing how this can, in turn, help us enhance our constituents’ quality of life.”

Here are some of the highlights: 

Keynote speaker Dr. Monika Black, co-founder and chief strategist of TandemSpring, led a vibrant discussion on ways to activate women's super powers and lead authentically by focusing on strengths—both individual and cultural. By recognizing and celebrating the diversity of our strengths, she noted, women can begin to see that diversity is not a box to be checked or a problem to be overcome. Instead, diversity is a perpetual opportunity for innovation and growth. Dr. Black also explained this leads to “a cultural perspective that individuals with a wide range of diverse makeups, experiences, strengths, talents, and perspectives embody a cultural richness that is to be celebrated and leveraged.”

Dr. Angie Pastorek, program manager and a member of the KU faculty, discussed the ways that unconscious bias in the workplace influences hiring, performance evaluations, and promotion practices. Dr. Pastorek provided illustrations of communication practices to help attendees recognize these bias, examine the root of them, and then make the business case for diversity in today's workforce. She encouraged attendees to begin personal conversations with coworkers on the ways diverse and inclusive organizations attract the best talent, more effectively engage with their diverse constituents, create more dynamic policies, and create a more multifaceted analysis of issues that can produce more effective strategies and decisions.

Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, KU's provost and executive vice chancellor, examined select philosophies on leadership from the West and the East, highlighting the Eastern emphasis on community and relationships. Echoing the voices of speakers throughout the day, Dr. Bendapudi acknowledged the additional difficulties many women in leadership positions face being a non-normative leader working within a traditional leadership structure.

Dynamic panelists gave concrete examples of how women's differences make them stronger, better leaders. Tamara Durham, KU's vice provost for student affairs; Cheryl Rose, deputy chief investigations bureau commander, Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department; and Kendra Davis, management analyst, Manhattan Beach, California, gave their “Perspectives Through Ages and Stages,” session that examined the different perspectives women go through during their careers and how sharing these experiences help them create cultures where everyone feels supported at every stage of their career.

During the “Leading at ALL Levels” discussion, panelists Dianna Wright, director of resource management, Olathe, Kansas; Sylvya Stevenson, budget analyst, Kansas City, Missouri; Andrea Dorch, division manager, Human Relations Department, Kansas City, Missouri; and Caitlin Gard, assistant public works director, Shawnee, Kansas, challenged the traditional leadership from the top model, arguing that leader-leader cultures are more innovative, creative, and productive. They highlighted ways they are all leaders at different levels and capacities within their organizations and that leadership roles change and progress over time. They summarized: "We can all lead from where we are, right now."

Conference attendees left with a renewed dedication to themselves and each other as they work to recognize the powerful leadership potential they all have and the tremendous strengths in their individual and cultural diversity.  

If you are interested in participating in other powerful learning and networking opportunities for women, check out Women Leading Government, with chapters across the country, and the League of Women in Government, an umbrella organization to support local and statewide organizations that advance women in local government leadership.

Also join in these upcoming events::

August 25: Raleigh, North Carolina, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Government’s Engaging Women Conference 3.0: Designing Your Way Forward.

August 30: Austin, Texas, Take Control of Your Success, a full day of networking, training, and discussion on women's journeys and achievements within the profession.

October 21: San Antonio, Texas. InclUSiveness . . . It starts with US: Why Gender Equality Is Good for Everyone—Men Included. ICMA University symposium in collaboration with the League of Women in Government.

October 22-25: San Antonio, Texas, ICMA Annual Conference, which is filled with keynote speakers, educational sessions, learning lounges, and roundtables on the issues of gender balanace, equity, and inclusion in communities and workplaces. Check out the educational track: Diversity, Inclusivity, and Social Justice

Do you have additional ideas, questions, or suggestions for future events? Contact Christa Rainwater at



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