By Lilly Rockwell
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the atrium of Austin City Hall, the seven women elected to the City Council last year said they were appalled to learn about a city-led training session for staffers on how to deal with a majority female council.
The training session, which took place March 27, featured two speakers from Florida who characterized women in stereotypical ways, such as suggesting they ask a lot of questions and aren’t interested in finances.
During a noon press conference, Council Member Ann Kitchen called the training “troubling” and “insulting” to women.
“Whether you believe women are from Mars, Venus or Jupiter, talk about men basing their decisions on facts and women on emotions is just frankly outdated and highly unprofessional,” Kitchen said.
The American-Statesman exposed this training session in a blog posted online Tuesday evening. The backlash was swift and voluminous, with many Austinites responding on social media saying they were offended by the comments, and were shocked the city would allow that sort of training. Some called for City Manager Marc Ott to resign.
Ott spoke after the press conference, saying he did not agree with the contents of that training session and that it wasn’t properly vetted by his office, and that he took “full responsibility” for that.
“I am offended and embarrassed by what I saw in the video,” Ott said. “This training should have been fully vetted to ensure it was consistent with our values and that didn’t happen.”
Though the women on the council took turns expressing their disappointment in the stereotypical descriptions of women, they stopped short of calling for Ott to resign or for anyone to be held personally accountable.
Ott acknowledged that the training was organized by Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes, but said the stereotypical comments and emphasis on gender differences were “unexpected” by both of them.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the presenter would focus their comments on and single out women as though we needed to do something different,” Ott said.
But Snipes appears to have had some understanding of what the presentation was about. In the video of the March 27 training session, Snipes introduced the two speakers and said he had an opportunity to hear one of the speakers do a similar presentation already.
During Wednesday’s press conference, the female council members also pointed out that they were totally unaware of the existence of this training session, and that no one on their staff knew it was happening.
“You would think that a training session on how to deal with women council members would include the women council members as part of that discussion and training,” said Council Member Sheri Gallo.