In Austin, outrage over city-sponsored seminar on female leadership

It was supposed to be a training seminar for city employees on how to deal with a new leadership dynamic: a female-dominated City Council.

Instead, the seminar in hip and left-leaning Austin, Texas, has triggered a political brouhaha resulting in one high-level resignation and an ongoing investigation – all after word leaked that management experts at the city-sponsored seminar dared to say that woman process information differently than men; view issues differently; and need to be treated differently. 

One expert was widely quoted as suggesting that women tend to ask too many questions (or at least more than men do) in part because they dislike dealing with financial minutia provided in memos before meetings. Members of the female-dominated City Council were outraged. Defending themselves, two management experts said their remarks comprised just a fraction of their presentations – and were taken out of context and misconstrued.

But no matter.

Last Monday, Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes resigned after having been placed on leave. Earlier, he had written an abject apology, saying he was unaware that sexist comments would be made at the seminar he organized. But it apparently was not enough to save his career.

Coincidentally, Snipes's resignation came on the heels of a skit on “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” that lampooned the seminar.


Austin's left-leaning and humorless female leaders must have seen red at being lampooned by O'Brien, given that they are so much like him: hip, well-educated, and left-leaning. Interestingly, the skit itself played upon amusing stereotypes of women; and it drew a strange moral equivalence – suggesting that politically incorrect humor about women is on par with crude stereotypes of Jews. For the skit's final punch line, a female actress observed: "They finally asked a woman to administer the sexism workshop. I would never trust a man to get this right, almost as if I'd never trust a Jew." O'Brien and his laughing audience members sure have a strange sense of humor.

The training session, to be sure, had started with the best of intentions. Not long ago, Austin voted in a new 10-member city council -- one composed of seven women.

Men had traditionally dominated the City Council; and so city managers thought it a good idea to arrange a training seminar focusing on how city employees should interact with female elected officials, some of them former activists. Its title gave no hint of controversy: "The Changing Dynamics in Governance; Women Leading in Local Government."

Jonathan Allen, the former city manager of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, was one of the featured speakers and made the most widely cited comments. He left his position in Lauderdale Lakes last April under unexplained circumstances and, like Snipes and Ott, is part of National Forum for Black Public Administrators. Race, however, has not been an issue in the controversy (at least not in any public discussion).

"Do men and women speak the same language? And I'm going to tell you up front -- no," said Allen, who provided anecdotes about his talkative daughter, and how female elected officials whom he had advised were less interested in financial arguments and minutia than in impacts on the community.

“If you use or attempt to use the same communication techniques in management techniques that you use in a predominately male dominated environment, you will be making a serious error in your professional development,” Allen explained

Another speaker was business consultant Miya Burt-Stewart, a PhD who cited the philosophies described in the non-fiction self-help book "Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus.”

"We understand that we are different, we act differently. What's most important sometimes (all of it is important to us, let me say that) but just in terms of how we receive it or how we want to act on it differs," Burt-Stewart said.


To be sure, neither Allen nor Burt-Stewart ever stated that woman were unqualified to hold leadership positions or incapable of doing a fine job, even though they may not act, think or function (for better or worse) as men do.

Interestingly, the seminar was held two months ago -- in late March – yet it was only reported upon two weeks ago in an Austin American-Statesman blog and then on social media. Neither Ott nor Snipes or any council members attended the seminar. Rather, it was attended by some 70 city employees, mostly women. The attendees, in other words, were ordinary city employees; and interestingly, none of them were apparently offended by the handful of supposedly sexist remarks they heard. The uproar only started when male and female political elites and left-leaning female council members got wind of the remarks. Allen's tone, to be sure, may have come across to some as condescending, but his message that men and women are different in some ways was hardly an earth-shaking message to reasonable people.

One new council member, Ellen Troxclair, was nevertheless quoted as saying: “I'm not someone who is generally a ‘P.C. police’ and jumps on every little thing that could have been taken out of context. So I did go back and watch the full video, but I only became more and more frustrated, and more and more offended.”

The controversy is threatening the career of City Manager Marc Ott, who launched an investigation on how the seminar was allowed to go forward. He expects to issue his report in the coming week.

Ott also wrote an apologetic memo to Mayor Steve Adler and council members, stating he was unaware of what would be said at the seminar, and that the controversial comments were “not reflective in any way of our culture, philosophy, or approach toward managing this organization, nor our approach toward partnering with the City Council.”

Leftists and feminists tend to be a humorless bunch; so more heads may roll as things play out. Political re-eduction courses are not yet an option for men who cause offense in a female-led government.

Austin's female leaders, incidentally, seem blind to a double standard at play. Imagine, for instance, if the seminar had focused on the positive and negative attributes of male management. Would female council members demand that heads roll over that?

Probably not. In their left-leaning worldview, men are oppressors in the battle of the sexes, and so no jokes or negative generalizations about their management styles are over the top. The same probably goes for nasty remarks about Jews of both genders -- at least if the skit on Conan O'Brien's show is anything to go by.