Combs: City Hall is no place for gender stereotypes

May 15th, 2015 Posted by writings 0 comments on “Combs: City Hall is no place for gender stereotypes”

There are many things about Austin that surprise me even after living here for decades — but the story in the American-Statesman about the training of city staff to prepare for the projected changes in store because of a female City Council majority had me buffaloed. Would a gender training session be necessary if the council’s makeup switched to all-male?

Let’s see.

According to the so-called expert consultant brought in to educate city staff, women don’t like numbers and we like to ask questions. The consultant’s expertise on these female traits seemed to stem from conversations with his 11-year-old daughter. Notice that she peppered him with questions and he “patiently” answered them. What a guy! This is absurd and sad on so many levels. How does that illuminating episode in his life qualify him to counsel adults on dealing with other adults? City Council members are not 11-year-old children.

As a former elected official at both the local and statewide level, I was taken aback by the comments offered by the male consultant. The tone was insulting and condescending. These women went out in the public, presented ideas, fought to win against men, and had to convince the public that they knew their stuff and would represent them well.

But something else about this is very discouraging. Women deal with numbers all the time, and the cost of public services matters. We need to quit telling girls they don’t like or are not good at math. We as a society need both men and women to deal with science, technology, engineering and math. It is important for our shared economic future.

But besides supposedly not liking numbers, women want to ask questions. I guess that means the City Council is now for the first time going to have “questions” and have to think about “the community.” What on earth were the men on the City Council doing before now? Rubber-stamping everything the great staff put out?


The fiduciary obligation of any public servant handling public money is to figure out the cost — yes the numbers — and then the effect it will have on the population they serve. Any rational person would do this irrespective of gender. And the job of a public servant is to ask questions, probe, ponder and make rational decisions based on facts — all this for the public good.

I strongly suspect the male City Council members in past years have been equally concerned about a community of interest and the best outcomes for them. The former City Council members seem to me to have taken their jobs seriously — and I imagine the new council will as well. In essence, the consultant was implying there had been no questions before by a male-dominated City Council. Wow. I wonder how the guys liked that bus rolling over them?

But in 2015, to have these ridiculous stereotypes given as information on dealing with a change in council makeup is both silly and sad. What does it take to educate consultants about how to consult?

I guess they thought Barbie had come to Austin.

Combs has served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, Texas’ first female Agriculture Commissioner and two terms as Texas Comptroller.