Women Leaders in North Carolina Government: We Still Have a Long Way to Go

Director, manager, administrator, and mayor are all titles given to leaders serving in the state and local government. In North Carolina, there is a disproportionately small number of women who hold these titles.

Women do not currently hold any leadership roles in the state’s general assembly where they make up 25 percent of the House of Representatives and 16 percent of the Senate. In the judicial system, women are in the minority. There are 100 county managers in North Carolina; eight are women. Eighteen percent of the state’s mayors are women.

UNC School of Government faculty member Leisha DeHart-Davis and recent MPA graduate Carla Davis-Castro presented the findings from a recent study about women in leadership roles in both state and local government during a one-day workshop titled “Engaging Women in Public Service: Taking Your Place and Paying it Forward” on Friday, June 6. DeHart-Davis and Davis-Castro served on the conference’s steering committee along with faculty members Margaret Henderson and Kim Nelson.

Few organizations across the country capture data on the gender landscape in public administration, so DeHart-Davis and Davis-Castro sought to fill that void by collecting data from North Carolina municipal governments, courts, and county managers.

“The lack of data and the lack of centralized, coordinated data is creating an opportunity for us to fill in some of these gaps,” DeHart-Davis said.

DeHart-Davis said the June 6 event brought together female leaders from public and nonprofit organizations to network and discuss ways to support each others’ career goals.

“We have to get women with similar interests in ascendency together to share information about their common challenges,” DeHart-Davis said. “Sometimes I think that women try to do it all, all by themselves. I think that there can be great benefit to women coming together, talking, networking, committing to helping each other, and that’s really what we’re trying to do in this first conference.”

In addition to sessions on networking, communication, and work-life integration, the conference highlighted the value of creativity in leadership.

“What do those women in the room need to know about their creative potential and why does that matter for leaders?” DeHart-Davis asked. “Creativity is an essential component of leadership.”

Davis-Castro said the conference’s title comes from the idea that leadership is a multi-step process.

“Taking your place means stepping out of the ranks and taking on leadership positions but also being able and willing to take credit for the things that you do,” she said. “Taking your place is one part and paying it forward is really looking at the intergenerational or longitudinal aspect.”

“For ambitious women,” Davis-Castro continued, “it’s very easy to focus on the future, but you’ve got to look behind you, too, at the younger generation who need role models, who are interested in doing what you’re doing.”

Infographic created by Carla Davis-Castro, Leisha DeHart-Davis, Margaret Henderson, and Kim Nelson, UNC School of Government

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