Austin TX staff training session: Men Are From Earth, Women Aren’t

The city of Austin, Texas recently elected a municipal council with a majority of women councilors. The city manager’s office deemed this such a profound change to the operations of government that a special training session was arranged to teach city staff, who are apparently recruited directly from the monastery of Mount Athos, how to work with women-folk.

Surprisingly, an office that thinks this session is a good idea seems not to be an office rich in contacts with workplace gender experts. So one of the expert presenters turned up and cited that locus classicus of empirical evidence and conceptual subtlety, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. And the other based his warnings — notably, that women ask a lot of questions and don’t like numbers — on his personal experience:

The city commission [Allen] had worked with is all-female, which apparently qualified him for the job. Plus, he has an 11-year-old daughter who plays volleyball. (Allen was later fired from his city manager position for unrelated reasons.)

I’m glad to hear that the firing was for unrelated reasons. Letting their 11 year-old play volleyball would be a terrible reason to fire someone.

After the Internet and social media got their WTF on, the city manager appears to have realized that an apology was called for. That was good. But his apology wasn’t for the right thing. That was bad.

“I have to acknowledge that this particular training should have received proper vetting. I must take responsibility for that not having occurred,” [Austin city manager Marc] Ott states to reporters.

Well, no. The problem wasn’t a failure to vet the content of the presentations; arguably the presenters did more or less what they were supposed to do. The content was ridiculous because the idea for this training session was terrible. (Because there are philosophers on the Internet: of course in a different possible world, an idea for a training session might not be terrible. E.g., if it were already known that the staff environment were one hostile to women. In that very different case, though, a very different kind of intervention than this would have been required — earlier, and not simply because more women had been elected.) A better apology in this case would have focused on the decision to arrange staff training of this sort in the first place: i.e., predicated on lazy generalizations about women, and on the idea that accountability to women representatives is a deviant case, requiring special preparation for staff beyond basic professionalism, courtesy, and respect.

2 thoughts on “Austin TX staff training session: Men Are From Earth, Women Aren’t

  1. Just curious: Does anyone think that there is any x, other than x=women, such that a training session of this sort would have seemed like a good idea to enough people that it would have occurred?

  2. In the 7 May local elections in the UK the ruling political party on Exeter City Council won more seats than they had the previous year – they now have 15 female councillors and 14 male councillors. I believe they are the first council ruling party to achieve parity with the population profile the council serves.
    There has been no mention of any need for training for council staff and it’s my view the ruling party (Labour) would be astonished to hear this need was felt elsewhere.
    I shall forward your eye-popping post to them for their amusement (bewhilderment?).
    The council still does not have overall gender parity as the second largest political party on the council (Conservatives) have 9 male councillors and 1 female councillor.

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