Coordinating the schedules of five active directors from the Harford County government and scheduling them into one room without a declaration from the County Executive is not an easy feat. But, with the help of Carole Boniface in the Office of Community Services, I95 BUSINESS was able to do just that. With little more than some direction regarding wardrobe choice and assurances of amenability to put them at ease, I95 BUSINESS was offered a unique glimpse into what brought these professionals to the top of their game with County government.
I95: So when I told a male colleague of mine that I was interviewing five of the top level positions in Harford County Government – including the County executive’s 2nd in command – and that they were all women, his reaction was this: “That tells me they are low paying positions.”
[After a sigh and some muffled chuckles …]
Debbie Henderson: Interesting. The director of procurement has been filled by both men and women, so …
Kathryn Hewitt: Typically in state and local governments, the treasury position, which is my position, or the controller, whatever the name is in each jurisdiction, is one of the highest paid positions in the County. To me, since I’ve been in government, it doesn’t signify low pay to me at all. And, I can assure you that over the years, I’ve pretty much had equal pay to men in similar positions.
Mary Chance: I can’t speak about government across the board but at one time we were fortunate enough to have a woman as County Executive and since then it’s never been a question of man or woman but who the County Executive wanted in his or her cabinet. And, because of that, we’ve never felt like it had to be a man or a woman specifically, but who does the County Executive want in those positions of leadership.
I95: Do you think women are attracted to public service? To jobs with the perception of more security?
Arden McClune: Well that’s some of the difference between private and public sector. You can make more money in certain fields in the private sector, but there’s a lot more risk and more expectation of work beyond reasonable hours. There is some feeling that if we’re going to put the work in, we want the benefit. Now as directors, we all serve at the pleasure of the County Executive. So, we are taking a certain amount of risk with that.
Chance: That’s correct, we currently serve at the pleasure of the County Executive. In two years, there will be a new County Executive and, the people sitting here at this table … are maybe sitting here thinking, “Will I be retiring? Leaving, not of my own choice but at the pleasure of the County Executive.” For us, it’s a little bit different than the rank and file employees. I think there are a lot of benefits to being a government employee – especially for women, and I appreciate that.
Elizabeth Hendrix: I came from the private sector to County government and it helped having that work/life balance. Not to say that all private sector companies don’t offer that, but there’s definitely … you are allowed to go home at night, or make the special school play when it’s important. And, that’s really important particularly when you have a family.
Henderson: And that’s exactly why I came here as well initially.
Chance: I think each of us with families and children came to work at the government as a rank and file employee and could go home, but now, that’s different than where we are sitting today, because we don’t go home and the balance is different. But initially, and I came from a place where you had to be dead or dying to take a sick day if you had any sick days, for someone who wants to have the security of the government position and wants to try and balance the family life with a work life, this is a good mix. Now, of course, we are in the position now that we don’t have that security that we had at one time …
I95: Because of your director level?
Chance: Yes, because we’re at the director level, and we truly … these women sitting at this table are not working from 8 till 5. We are working long hours, weekends, evenings, trying to get the job done. And I have a wonderful team of people who really get it … that’s it isn’t an 8 to 5 job. The salary is better than when we were classified employees for sure, and that’s a nice benefit.
Henderson: But there’s a lot more responsibility and the buck stops with us.
Hendrix: The buck does stop with us, and we have a lot more bosses than just the County exec and the director of administration. You have the public. And you’re responding on a regular basis to what’s going on.
Henderson: And the County Council.
Chance: And I do think it’s important to recognize that citizens are paying our salary, that they expect service from us and that’s what we’re supposed to do.