- Bloomberg Government and Verizon hosted its first Women in Smart Cities Forum on Thursday in Washington, DC to showcase female leadership in the smart cities space. A variety of women, ranging from directors in the private sector to mayors and Congresswomen, took the stage for a series of panels on topics such as open data, inclusivity and civic engagement.
- Rep. Doris Matsui, D-CA, opened the forum by explaining that "women are generational thinkers," noting most women see plans and strategies in a holistic manner, making them crucial for leadership roles in smart city development. Throughout the forum, leaders including Gary, IN Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Verizon Senior Vice President of Public Policy Kathy Grillo echoed these sentiments.
- According to Bloomberg, women make up just 20% of elected representatives in the United States, and only 19 of the country's 100 largest cities are led by female mayors.
The event kicked off with a panel featuring Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Gary, IN Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, two African American female leaders who offered insights on education, job training and rebuilding communities. Both mayors have explored initiatives including the "Dollar House" program and subsidized educational programs, all to bring prosperity to their communities. "If leadership leads, then opportunity prevails," Pugh said. "You have to see problems as assets ... When you think you're in a predicament, you're really not if you really value what you have."
Baltimore @MayorPugh50 on the importance of job training & affordable education: “When you think about all the jobs that will become available ... the question should be, are you going to be able to employ the people who live in your city?” pic.twitter.com/3AaWIN1To3— Kristin Musulin (@kristinmusulin) June 14, 2018
Panels featuring private sector leaders (including Rachelle Garrett of Microsoft and Margaret Anadu of Goldman Sachs) and federal representatives (including Reps. Yvette Clarke, D-NY, and Suzan DelBene, D-WA) followed, collectively shining a light on how governments and the private sector can leverage public-private partnership (P3) opportunities, and how the federal government can advance local innovation. These panels, entirely women-led, were underscored by themes of transparency and civic buy-in.
While local leadership has certainly become more diverse — London Breed this week was named San Francisco's first African American female mayor while Mayors Joyce Craig of Manchester, NH and Michelle Kaufusi of Provo, UT were each recently elected as the first female mayors in their cities — it has been a slow journey forward. Despite significant national efforts to smash gender stereotypes, some communities are still hesitant to elect female representation, which is a battle that Craig hopes will be alleviated for generations to come.
"I think it’s important that other young women and women in the area know that this is an option for them," Craig told Smart Cities Dive of becoming mayor. "Up until now when you walked into city hall, you would see all of the pictures of the former mayors of Manchester and they’re all male. Now, this is something that young girls growing up in the city know is an option for them to aspire to."
Aside from local encouragement, many organizations are dedicated to empowering women to run for political office. The Women Led Cities initiative works to bring together urban women to collaborate on feminist city policy and more inclusive planning and design, while organizations like She Should Run are aiming to get 250,000 women running for elected office by 2030. The Women in Smart Cities Forum highlighted that there is certainly a place for women at the table, and a more diverse group of leadership is necessary for U.S. cities to truly have a smart future.