Women Managers
(from Maine Townsman, July 1994)
By Jo Josephson, Staff Writer

Diversity in the Labor Pool: More women are moving into municipal management for different reasons and with varied backgrounds

In case you haven't been tracking the trend, the number of women moving into local government management positions in Maine is on the rise, up 49 percent in the past ten years.

While there were only 39 Maine towns with women at the helm in 1983, today 58 Maine towns have women managers. And while women made up only 21 percent of the management community in 1983, today women managers constitute 30 percent.

The numbers are encouraging, especially if you compare them to the national average of 10 percent. Or are they? If one goes beyond the raw numbers and looks at where the women are serving as managers in Maine, one realizes that the picture may not be as rosy as first imagined.

A closer look reveals the fact that for the most part women manage the smallest towns in Maine, where managers-be they men or women-are essentially what Richard Michaud, president of the Maine Town and City Management Association calls "doers", i.e., they do everything.

Currently women comprise 65 percent of the managers in towns with a population of under 1,000. Which is to say, only 35 percent of towns with a population under 1,000 are managed by men.

Currently 41 percent of Maine's female managers manage towns with a population of less than 1,000. Which is to say, for the most part few women manage the larger towns. In fact there are only three women managing towns with populations over 5,000 and no women managing the 17 towns with a population of over 10,000.

One could propose many reasons for why so few women are town and city managers, and why those who are, are clustered in the smaller towns.

One could say, optimistically, that women have just recently begun to enter the field of public administration and are working their way up from entry level towns, or that the private sector has the edge on attracting qualified managers, especially when it comes to pay and working conditions.

Or, one could pragmatically suggest that women are clustered in the small towns because they came up through the ranks in their small town (i.e., they were hired internally) and they prefer to stick close to home and family. Or, it might be presumed that the time commitment and mobility required to make it to the larger towns deters women who want families from entering the field in the first place.

On the other hand, one could pessimistically suggest that gender bias has a hand in the numbers; that mostly male members of boards of selectmen believe women don't have the qualities needed for the job.

In fact thirty-two percent of the women responding to a nationwide survey out of Central Michigan University (see footnote) of female city managers said they believed that the reason females comprise only 10.7 percent of the city managers nationwide was that male boards would not hire women managers.

Another proposition offered by some is that women doubt their abilities and only the overachievers reach the top.

The hypotheses are endless. The reality is all of the above and then some.

This article looks at a number of women currently holding manager positions in Maine. It records the diverse routes they took to their current jobs. It shares their personal perspectives on women as municipal managers.

In selecting the women to interview, the TOWNSMAN looked at three entry routes: those who came to their jobs with a degree in public administration, those who came from a managerial position in the private sector, and those who were hired internally, with no prior formal training or experience in management.


A recent study of the public administration program at the University of Maine, indicates that 32 percent of the undergraduate majors and 37 percent of graduate students were women. And while public administration is not synonymous with municipal management, a spokesman for the university notes that the local government internship course is attracting an increasing number of women. According to Professor Thomas Taylor of the Department of Public Administration, 10 years ago a mere 10 percent were women; today as much as 40 percent of the interns are women.

Cathy Smith Sleeper

Among the graduates of the public administration program at the University of Maine is Cathy Smith Sleeper, the current manager of Rockland (pop. 7,972). A graduate of the program in 1980, Smith recalls of the 10 students in the undergraduate program, she was the only woman.

"Women don't think of public administration as a career; for so long it was a profession that was so completely male. But it's changing; it has changed," says Sleeper, who is now in her 14th year as a municipal manager and her eighth year in Rockland.

As an indication of the changing times, Sleeper notes that at a recent meeting of coastal managers, there were eight managers in attendance: four were women and four were men.

But that's not to say women have made it very far or don't have far to go in municipal management. Sleeper, who teaches a course in public policy at the University of Maine, speculates that because the entrance of women into public management is a recent phenomenon, it will take time for women to work up to the larger cities and towns. But she also speculates that their overwhelming presence in small towns may well be the result of personal choices.

Sleeper was one of 122 women to respond the Central Michigan survey of female managers in municipalities with populations of 2,500 residents and above. She says she is surprised by some of the results of the survey, in-cluding the one that indicated that 47 percent of those responding to the survey felt gender bias was a barrier to their advancement. She says the number is higher than she would have expected.

Sleeper, who was the first women to be hired as a manager in her town, believes that gender need not be an issue in the job. "You can make it a non-issue," she says and she has. "It depends on your attitude," she says, adding "I think Maine is more progressive than other areas; it's a gut feeling; "I haven't had any problems."

Sleeper feels that women are in many ways well-suited for the job of town manager as the job requires a lot of patience. It's a trait she feels women come by naturally.

But she also notes that anyone coming into the field, male or female, has got to reconcile the fact that the job is not nine to five and if you have a family, you will have to strike a balance. Sleeper does not have children.

The survey indicated that 14 per-cent of the women responding believed family pressures were a barrier to advancement and 17 percent felt time commitment and mobility were a barrier.

Sleeper began college as a sociology major, but she didn't want to be a social worker. She took a course in public management in her junior year and followed that up with an internship the following summer with Terry St. Peter, who was then the manager of Caribou.

"It was the best thing that could have happened to me," says Sleeper of the internship. "I was hooked."

Sleeper's first job was in Thomaston (pop. 3,306), where she served as manager for six-years. She was definitely the "doer" type manager there, serving not only as manager but as road commissioner and tax collector, overseeing an office staff of two. Today, in a town more than twice the size, with a staff of 17, she sees herself as a manager, where things don't get bumped up to her level "until they get hot."

Madeline Henley

Like Sleeper, Henley is in her second town since graduating with a degree in public administration. For her, it was a master's degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Government in Syracuse, New York.

"I was the only person who went into the program knowing she wanted to go into local government," Henley told the TOWNSMAN.

Henley is currently the manager in Bethel (population 2,329); she was hired in 1990, following a two-year stint as an administrative assistant in a small town in New Hampshire.

Henley says in her current position she is probably better paid than the male managers in neighboring towns. She attributes this to the fact that the town offers a lot of services and that her predecessor Rodney Lynch worked to increase the pay of the manager.

Like Sleeper, she says municipal management is a good field for women. Like Sleeper, Henley has no dependents.

Henley says she see herself moving on some day to a larger town, where she feels the time demands on the manager will actually be less. "The smaller the town, the less support there is; you do everything in a smaller town; you wear many hats; it's very time consuming," says Henley.

Because of the time demands on managers in small towns, Henley feels women managers in Maine are "mostly invisible." "They don't have the time to join boards and do the other stuff; it's hard for them to take a whole day off when only one or two people are running the town," she points out.

Like Sleeper, Henley says that women managers have a lot to offer. "They are approachable and are bet-ter at empathetic conversation, an im-portant trait in a job where you have to say'no' a lot," says Henley.

She also believes women are suc-cessful in getting diverse groups of people together. "Women have been trained as peacekeepers and commu-nicators," says Henley, adding that around her town, it is said: Madeline is a healer."

For those hiring managers, Henley has at least one piece of advice. "Don't worry that a woman manager will have a hard time with the police chief or the road commissioner. Such problems will happen whether you are a male, female or a Martian. It's always difficult to straighten out lines of authority, no matter who you are, especially when you are dealing with lifers," says Henley.


Traditionally, the trend has been for managers to move from the public to the private sector where the benefits are better. That's what Paula Valente, the former manager of Auburn did when she moved to UNUM a few years ago.

But in today's downsizing world, the direction has been reversed, adding greater diversity to the applicant pool for town and city managers. Many view this reversal as beneficial to the public sector, as the applicants bring their experience of private sector efficiencies to the job.

Clare Dever

On board as the manager in Van Buren (pop 3,045) for less than a year, Clare Dever comes to public administration from a private corporation that had annual sales of $400 million a year. Van Buren's municipal budget currently stands at slightly more than $1.2 million.

Her move to the public sector, ac companied by a cut in salary, is the result of downsizing at Timberland Co., where for six years she had been director of legal services for the company's domestic and international affairs. Prior to her work at the Timberland Co., which manufactures shoes and clothing apparel, she was in charge of legal and administrative matters for a subsidiary of the W.R. Grace Company, Chomerics Inc. a defense contractor.

As Timberland, which is head-quartered in New Hampshire, started undergoing a change in management, Devers began making plans for her own career change. She looked to neighboring Maine, where she had frequently vacationed and decided to expanded her options by looking for a job in the public sector as well as the private sector.

Public or private, the job she wanted would be one where she could apply her financial, legal, and administrative skills. It would be one that provided her with a "significant challenge." And last but not least, it would provide her with more contact with the public than her previous jobs had (the little contact she had experienced in the past she had enjoyed).

The manager position in Van Buren was available. Jayne Farrin was leaving. And while Van Buren was far-ther north than she had previously considered, it was appealing for two reasons: it had an international border-she had done a lot of international work for Timberlands-and it was facing the challenge of losing the economic base provided by neighboring Loring Air Force Base.

Dever believes that the timing was right for her in getting the Van Buren job. In fact, she had an edge over those with backgrounds in public administration as municipalities are adopting the Total Quality Management approach of the private sector.

Dever does not see any gender issues associated with her new position. What she does see are public vs. private sector issues.

"In the private sector you expect to be accountable and report to a limited number of people; in the public sector you are responsible and accountable to the entire community" says Dever.

"There are also different sets of issues when it comes to personnel; there are differences in policy and pay structures," says Dever, who since taking over the reins in Van Buren has instituted a first-ever personnel performance plan that will provide incentives for individual performance by gearing wage and salary increases to performance.

Personnel performance plans aside, Dever has been busy this past year and has a lot to show for the 70-hour work weeks she has been logging.

The Ambulance Department is no longer in the red. The town was the only one in the area to apply for and receive a $50,000 Defense Conversion Planning Grant. The town, through tough negotiations and grant applications, was able to reduce the contract pricing of engineering work on the town's troubled wastewater treatment plant and pay for it with monies other than the town's tax revenues. These are just a few examples of projects she has had a strong hand in since coming on board last October.


While more and more women are graduating with degrees in public administration, the Central Michigan survey of women holding positions in municipal management found that over half of the 122 women responding to the survey had been hired internally and had prior experience as an assistant chief appointed officer, clerk or in finance.

The University of Maine's TomTaylor says there are advantages and disadvantages to internal hires. "The advantage is they are not politically naive, but they may be reluctant to take risks, whereas a recent graduate of a public administration program may come with a theoretical vision but because of their lack of experience or knowledge of the town, may be politically naive," says Taylor.

Taylor sees internal hires occurring where towns, though they have adopted the town manager form of government, are not yet ready to risk hiring a manager from away. "One trusts an internal hire; they are a known entity," says Taylor.

While Taylor believes there is nothing wrong with internal hiring, he says, "The towns are probably doing it for the wrong reasons."

Patricia Dickey

Pat Dickey has managed the town of Skowhegan (pop. 8,725) for the past 13 years. It is the largest town in Maine currently being managed by a woman.

Contrary to what one might ex-pect, she is not a graduate of a public administration program. For 17 years she served as the town's bookkeeper, filling in from time-to-time as manag-ers came and went before she applied for the manager's job.

"I didn't apply for the manager's job until I was ready," she told the TOWNSMAN. "I had a family, a husband and a daughter, and I knew how time-consuming the job was."

The vote by the board of selectmen was 4-1 to hire her, she recalls. The wider community was less sure, she says. "There was concern about a woman taking over the job; the community was split on the issue."

She herself was surprised that she got the job, even though she had been there for so long. Looking back she realizes her tenure there had worked to her advantage, giving her an edge over the other applicants.

PI had a lot of credibility; people knew me. They also knew I wasn't a strong feminist. I was local and I was a good fit," says Dickey.

On the issue of equal pay for woman managers, Dickey says she thinks woman managers in Maine are for the most part underpaid. Many boards feel if your husband makes a good salary, you don't need to be paid as much as a man," says Dickey. Right now her pay is comparable; but it hasn't always been that way, she says.

Dickey says she is one of those managers who is not looking to move on to a larger town. If she did she knows she would have to go back to school. However, this doesn't mean she would not consider a town that presented a challenge; like one on the brink of growing.

She describes her style of management as "hands-on." Dickey also thinks woman are better suited to the job of managing local government because they are skilled in working with people.

Earla Parks

Like Pat Dickey, Earla Parks became a manager by working at a non-manager job in local government for a number of years. But unlike Parks, she wasn't hired by the town where she had been groomed for the job by the department manager.

As administrative assistant to the manager of Veazie (pop. 1,633) for five years, she worked closely with the manager upgrading the town's fire, police and public works departments, and its computer system.

Parks said the five-member (male) board of selectmen passed over her and hired a man who had already served as a manager in another town.

Angry but undaunted, Parks aggressively began to look for a manager's job elsewhere. She didn't have to look too far. Nearby Levant (pop. 627) was looking for a manager.

"I'm a strong personality," says the 47-year-old divorced mother of three children. I had four interviews with the five-member Levant board. We were very candid with each other. They knew what they were getting and they wanted it," says Parks.

Levant had gone through two managers in two years. As Park's describes it, they were looking for someone to clean up the town. She's been on the job a year this month.

"I honestly think my experience and skills and personality make me marketable in a narrow corridor in local government," says Parks. As she sees it she is perfect for a small town that is disorganized. Like Dickey, she admits that were she to move up to a larger town she'd have to go back to school.

Parks is a strong advocate for what she calls the 'gold mine in your own back yard'. "Degree or no degree, it takes a newcomer at least five years to learn what someone already on staff knows," says Parks.

Like the other women interviewed for this article, Parks notes the incredible time commitment required of the job and confesses that "lack of a personal life has made me a better manager."


Increasing Interest

According to a 1988 article in the American Review of Public Administration, which was coauthored by Kenneth K. Ahn of the University of Maine and Michelle A. Saint-Germain of the University of Arizona, college women look more favorably on ca-reers in public administration and lo-cal government than do their male counterparts.

In their paper, "Public Administration Education and the Status of Women," Ahn and Saint-Germain point to the increasingly large number of women obtaining professional degrees in the field of public adminis-tration, up from 14 percent of the enrollment in masters degree programs in 1973 to 43 percent in 1985.

Ahn and Saint-Germain speculate that women are drawn to careers in local government because of the identification of public administration as being in the services sector.

"While in the past public adminis-tration has been strongly identified either as a subset of political science or as closely related to business management, two areas dominated by males, the emergence of separate undergraduate degrees in public management has allowed the field to take on a more sex-neutral identification."

Family Obligations

In the July/August, 1993 issue of Public Administration Review, an article "Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward: The Status of Women's Integration into Public Management" looks at the family obligations of those in public administration, among other things.

The author Mary Guy, the director of the MPA program at the University of Alabama, states that "men in top-level positions tend to live traditional family lives, while women disproportionately live non-traditional lives. "

Guy notes that as many as 71 percent of female managers report they had no dependents, while only 48 percent of the male managers re-ported this. About 50 percent of the woman managers were married; while over 80 percent of the male managers were married.

FOOTNOTE: The survey was conducted in 1994 by Tracey A. Preen, a candidate for a Masters of Science in Adminstration at Central Michigan University. The data was analyzed and used in a section of her thesis. The questionnaire, entitled Female City Manager Survey was sent to 198 female city managers nation-wide in municipalities with a population of 2,500 residents and above. Sixty-two percent responded to the survey. A copy of the executive summary is available from the MMA.