Women Redefining Gender Roles In Government

By Traci Moyer
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.


Jody Townsend says she is not afraid to tackle life head on.

The 35-year-old business owner runs a tight schedule in order to juggle her home and work schedules, but that has not stopped her from adding another responsibility to her agenda — bucking stereotypes.

Townsend, who was recently appointed deputy building commissioner and assistant planning director for the city of Anderson, is one of the first women to ever fill this traditionally male role in local government.

Frank Owens, director of municipal development for the city of Anderson, said four men and two women applied for the deputy building commissioner position.

“I looked for the best candidate and I found her,” he said. “She is shattering glass ceilings.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for women in 2012 was 7.9 percent compared to 8.1 percent for men. The department is also forecasting the number of women in the labor force to increase between 2010 and 2020 at a rate of .7 percent compared to .6 percent for men.

Earlier this year, a Harris poll study found a majority of both genders felt there are too few women in positions of power.

However, when asked to choose between men and women for 11 specific occupations — from President of the United States to nurse — most Americans, particularly men, expressed traditional gender expectations.

Most men preferred to interact with female teachers and male senior corporate executives. Even women felt most comfortable with male engineers, according to the poll commissioned by Pershing,a business solutions firm.

But many of the jobs now being filled are ones previously reserved for men.

Owens said when looking for quality in the candidates who applied, he never stopped to consider gender.

“I, myself, think outside of the box and I think it is time in the 21st century of looking at new ways of doing things and that includes the female gender,” he said. “Before it was always that was the way it was and the way it stayed.”

The building trade is predominantly men, but Owens said there has been a shift through the years and they are beginning to see more and more women owning building companies or managing them.

“We need to be reflective on the new way people are doing business,” Owens said.

Building a better tomorrow

Townsend, who is also the owner and broker of Red Express Realty, said she has a secret method she employs when the odds are stacked against her or when she encounters an obstacle standing between her and her goals.

“You just plow forward and get it done,” she said. “That’s what I do with my real estate business, at home or whatever.”

Although she did not know her new position with the city had traditionally only been filled by men, Townsend said it would not have stopped her from applying.

“I would not say I am a big feminist, but at the same time it is something I take pride in,” she said.

Townsend said she refuses to let gender barriers stand in her way because there are others following in her footsteps.

“I have three daughters ages 10, 12 and 19,” she said. “My middle daughter wants to be a police officer and not a behind-the-desk kind of officer. She wants to be out and on the streets, which is another traditionally male-held role. And I have told her if that is what she wants to do, she should do it. I am not going to hold her back.”

To balance her workload between her private business, government job and home life, Townsend said she stays organized.

“You have to really be efficient,” she said. “You have to prioritize, make lists and I live by the calendar on my phone.”

Long hours are also unavoidable.

Townsend works eight hours a day at the city, and after 4 p.m. she devotes the remaining hours of her day to her private business.

“I am normally up at 4:30 a.m. answering emails,” she said.

She said it may be more difficult in the corporate world for women to fill positions normally reserved for men, but that is changing.

“You are seeing more and more women and a lot more working moms out there than there used to be,” Townsend said.

One of the things she struggles with is the debate among women and working outside of the home.

“Women are very quick to pass judgment on each other,” she said. “There is a lot of contention between women on if your family suffers if you are working or if you suffer if you are a stay-at-home mom. Everyone is individual and everyone is different.

“I hate that argument among women,” she added. “We can all find fulfillment as women in our lives.”

There is one drawback to living such a busy life, Townsend said.

“You will never sleep again,” she said with a laugh. “Honestly, if they have any aspirations they should just go for it. You only have one life.”

Raising the bar for women

Townsend is not the only city employee who is redefining gender roles in local government. Ashley Hopper, 30, is the city’s attorney — another position traditionally filled by men.

Hopper, who was the former deputy director for economic development, graduated with her Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University College of Law and went on to secure a Master of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas. She has also served in various positions throughout the Madison County court system.

“In today’s job market it’s education, dedication, and hard work that produce opportunities,” Hopper said.

Adjusting to her new role is something Hopper has naturally taken in stride.

“With any new position, there is a certain pressure when you are trying to familiarize yourself with current projects,” she said. “In my position, that was no different as I spent the first few weeks getting up to speed on pending litigation and projects.”

Hopper said she is looking forward to her role in opening doors for other women to follow in her footsteps.

“It is an honor,” she said. “It is very rewarding to have the opportunity to help shape public policy and the future of our community.”

Mayor Kevin Smith said it is important for his administration to bring women into leadership roles.

“It brings great diversity in perspective to the city because they are in key public policymaking positions,” he said. “Both of these young women are highly qualified for these roles in city government.”

Smith said he encourages women to be role models for other government staff and the community.

“I’m from the era that never excluded women,” he said. “I was raised as a product of the 60s really.”

He said if he had limited the candidate pools for the jobs these women have filled to only men, he would have missed an opportunity to employ some of the best talent in the area in key positions of his administration — talent crafted from hard work and a dedication to educational excellence.

“You, as a single individual person, can accomplish any goal if you work hard enough and study hard enough,” Smith said.

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