Women are taking the reins in Phoenix government

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By Sara Dial & Sandra Ferniza, AZ We See It

Our Turn:
Phoenix leaders have done a great job promoting women into key roles. Keep it up.

A recent Pew Research Center survey had this to say about women and leadership:

“Most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation yet women still make up a small share of top leadership jobs.”

These circumstances are shifting dramatically within the city of Phoenix.

Over a year ago, we sat down with then-Acting City Manager Ed Zuercher to ask about the status of women in management positions at the city. If a woman could lead the state’s Super Bowl Host Committee and the city could have three dynamic councilwomen then our inquiry was timely and necessary.

The response was enlightening to all of us.

He asked of himself and others:

• Could the city do better?
• Are there opportunities to advance for women in city management?
• And if not, why not?

We’re pleased to report on the city’s tremendous progress.

Mr. Zuercher was named city manager and both before and after our meeting and his appointment he observed, conferred, listened and took action.

Currently about 40 percent of department heads or higher positions in the city are filled by women.

In the past 18 months, Mr. Zuercher has hired or promoted 36 executives, of which 56 percent are women.

For the first time in the city’s history, women serve as fire chief, aviation director, economic development director and city prosecutor.

In addition to these accomplished managers, women also now run the departments of Water, Information Technology, Public Transit, Library, Arts and Culture, Communications, Equal Opportunity and Human Resources.

And Mr. Zuercher appointed the second Latina deputy city manager in Phoenix’s history in 2014.

Women continue to run important departments and, just as important, are second in command in others, developing a deep bench of talent. And, the city is focused on filling non-traditional roles with women, including police and fire positions, field workers, sanitation truck drivers, heavy equipment operators and professional jobs like engineers.

The expanding group of women city leaders represents hard-working, decision-makers adapting to changing times in our very diverse city. They multi-task, collaborate and inspire others to excel and serve.

They are creative and resourceful as they manage multi-million dollar budgets and large staffs serving critical needs of Phoenix residents.

They have built excellent networks both among the city elected leaders, staff and the residents they serve. They are exceeding performance expectations in so-called traditional and non-traditional roles. They are greatly respected.

Last month, we joined other female business and community leaders to celebrate the growing number of women in leadership roles at the city of Phoenix.

It is rare that our elected officials and city management get recognized for a job well done. As women leaders, we applaud Mayor Greg Stanton, the entire Phoenix City Council and especially City Manager Ed Zuercher for this leadership and commitment.

Now it is essential that our mayor, council and city manager continue their focus on nurturing the next generation of diverse management. Every great team needs a ready and waiting bench of team players.


Sara Dial is CEO of Sara Dial & Associates, an economic development consulting firm.

Sandra Ferniza is a Phoenix resident and member of the Central City Village Planning Committee.

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