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Karen Gordon: Addressing the challenges for women in leadership

Karen Gordon is a communications expert who works closely with municipalities across the country. As such, she has had many opportunities to see first-hand the impact women are having in the local government sector.

That said, she also knows there is more municipalities and employers need to do to make sure women start to represent their true numbers in terms of municipal leadership.

Importance of Confident Leadership

Having had the opportunity to work with some accomplished CAOs, Gordon notes in the video there is a difference between men and women as leaders, and as communicators. A lot of the time, she explains, the difference can be summed up in one word – confidence.

“Confidence is a gigantic word, and it covers a lot,” she said. “In terms of communications, just confidence knowing your topic, knowing you are the expert, and speaking with conviction. It is OK to speak with conviction and be strong on issues.”

Gordon said it is important to be kind to people and to treat people how you want to be treated. But also, it is particularly important to help lift up and mentor other women.

This is important, she adds, given how there are “multi-generations behind us” and they will all need encouragement, support, and advice as they continue their own journey into future leadership positions.

Providing Opportunities for Women

In the short-term, Gordon said, it is about knowing what you know, addressing those issues, owning the room, and not apologizing. As women, she said, the tendency is to apologize more than is necessary. Therefore, it is important to not only stop that behaviour, but to also be mindful that it is perfectly acceptable to present a strong image.

“I think you want to be kind, but you don’t want to be taken advantage of. You don’t want to be too nice and have people run all over you. That doesn’t help either,” she said. “Especially if you are with someone who only has yes people around them. Sometimes they need a no. Or if they are no people, sometimes they need a yes. Have the strength to be that person.”  MW

Karen Gordon was part of the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association 2019 Fall Workshop, where she sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner to discuss the leadership challenges faced by women in local government.

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Teri McMackin’s article: Opening the door for women in local government. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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