Austin City Council members held a news conference May 13 to address concerns regarding a training session held in March for city staff that offered recommendations for working with female council members.
Two speakers hosted a two-hour training session March 27, during which they claimed women ask a lot of questions, women are less concerned about numbers and financial topics and women make decisions based on emotion while men make decisions based on facts. Those who attended the session were members of a partner group called "Women Leading in Local Government," according to City Manager Marc Ott.
"When I learned last night about a training to get our city staff familiar with 'dealing' with female council members I was a combination of shocked, appalled and speechless," District 2 Councilwoman Delia Garza said. "The characterization of women as not having an interest in financial arguments, asking too many questions and requiring different interactions is unacceptable."
Other members of council, which is majority female since the beginning of the year, made similar comments denouncing the training exercise. Multiple council members said the session was inappropriate and did not embrace Austin's diversity.
"Yes, women ask questions," District 10 Councilwoman Sheri Gallo said. "All of the council members are asking questions regardless of their gender. Effective leaders ask questions then they evaluate and listen to the answers and develop real solutions based on the information they've received."
The incident can open the door for a new way forward, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said. The news that such a training session existed could prompt even more women into leadership and staff roles at the city of Austin, she said.
Ott took responsibility for the session, but said the intent was to reinforce Austin's principles regarding diversity in the work place and how staff might apply those principles with the new majority-female council.
Ott said he was not aware of the comments made by the speakers until last night, and he did not attend the session. He said he was offended by the use of stereotypes because of his personal experience as a black man who has been stereotyped.
Mayor Steve Adler said he has not heard any talks among council members about firing Ott.
Councilman Don Zimmerman was not present at the news conference. Adler said Zimmerman left City Hall at 11:15 a.m. to attend a constituent meeting in his district.