For the first time ever, women will make up the majority of the Austin City Council, with seven women and four men serving this year. Unfortunately, Austin’s City Hall staff is really struggling with this major shift. In fact, some staffers apparently find working with women so confounding that they hosted a two-hour training session on “how to talk to a female-dominated City Council after decades of rule by men.”
The Austin city government paid for the hotel of Jonathan K. Allen, a former city manager in Florida who dealt with women that one time, so that he could come and explain to them how to work with womenfolk. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Allen offered such sage advice as:
Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.
Women don’t want to deal with numbers. Allen said in his city they used to have background information and financial analysis on the front pages of agenda forms. Allen says he normally would have presented the financial argument, but that his female commissioners would balk and say, “Mr. Manager, I don’t want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community.” He said that it may make good financial sense, but if he wants to get the votes, he has to present his arguments “in a totally different way.”
Also, get used to dealing with the ladies, advises Allen, because Hillary Clinton has them all thinking they can be leaders.
There’s no harm in having sessions that help people with different leadership styles work cohesively, but focusing on gender stereotypes like “lady legislators are like my inquisitive 11-year-old” seems decidedly less helpful.