Women’s Leadership Program Helps Narrow Gender Gap in Michigan Communities

Matt Bach
Michigan Municipal League
[email protected], 734.669.6317


Michigan Municipal League program has helped increase percentage of women in local government leadership positions to over 20 percent, training to include elected leaders

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Municipal League is celebrating today the five-year anniversary and success of its Women’s Municipal Leadership Program in narrowing the gender gap for municipal executives across the state.

The local government leadership program, which is part of the League’s 16/50 Project, has served 135 women to date, many of whom have gone on to serve in municipal manager roles or other executive leadership positions in local government.

The multifaceted program was launched in 2018 to provide leadership development and management training in the areas of municipal budgeting and finance; economic development; and council-manager relations. It was named the 16/50 Project because at the time women made up 50 percent of the state’s workforce, but only 16 percent were women serving in municipal executive manager roles.

In its brief existence, the program has helped to increase the percentage of women in municipal executive management roles from 16 percent to now over 20 percent.

“When we launched the program, women made up just 16 percent of local government manager positions while comprising about 50 percent of our state population,” said Emily Kieliszewski, Women’s Municipal Leadership Program Manager for the League. “There’s an overwhelming amount of research that has proven organizations with more gender balance and diversity are more likely to achieve greater success but our data illustrated that women experience significant barriers.”

The program is so successful it inspired the League to create similar development opportunities for elected women officials. That elected official’s program will start for the first time later this year.

“Women have been under-represented in local government leadership positions for far too long, but this program has given many women the extra skills and confidence needed to break through the local government glass ceiling and achieve their full potential,” said Barbara Ziarko, President of the League Board and Sterling Heights City Councilmember. “The program has helped so many women and I’m excited that it’s inspired parallel programming to support the development of elected women.”

The project also included outreach and presentations at multiple Michigan universities to encourage future women and men to consider the municipal manager field as a profession. Program leaders also worked with local government officials, such as city and village councils, to encourage them to expand the talent pool when it comes to finding their next manager.

This program has been so successful in helping women earn appointments to city manager and other executive positions that it has become a national model being emulated in other states, such as Texas and Virginia. Kieliszewski also has spoken to several national conferences about the program’s success.

“Congratulations to the trailblazing 16/50 Project creators, sponsors, mentors, and participants on your five-year anniversary,” said Bonnie Svrcek, coordinator of the Virginia Women’s Municipal Leadership Institute. “Thank you ever so much for blazing the trail for women to connect, learn, and grow to be leaders in local government in Michigan. Your work absolutely inspired and helped guide the creation of the Virginia Women’s Municipal Leadership Institute, which was created in 2022. We are grateful for your willingness to share your program with us. Virginia is looking forward to moving the needle from 17/50!”

The free program runs over five months and includes day-long sessions. Participants have the opportunity to learn directly from seasoned local government executives and also receive executive coaching and participate in mock interviews to help prepare them to move on to the next levels in their careers.

Albion City Manager Haley Snyder is one of many women leaders who have been able to advance their skills and careers through the program. She attributes her success in part to the professional development topics offered.

“Women often carry a lot of self-doubt will hold back on applying for leadership roles, but the Women’s Municipal Leadership Program gave me access to mentors and the confidence in my abilities to excel in my role,” Snyder said. “I now look forward to paying it forward and helping other women in the program to realize their career goals and better serve their communities.”

Gaylord City Manager Kim Awrey also is a program graduate and said it prepared her well for her current role. She has a finance background and was the city clerk and finance director for the City of Gaylord before becoming city manager in December of 2020.

“Before I completed the Women’s Municipal Leadership Program, the city’s senior staff were all men. I didn’t see anybody that looked like me in leadership roles. When the League started that program, I jumped on it and immediately knew the route I wanted,” said Awrey, adding she was part of the first group of women to go through the program. “In the program, I saw other women striving for these same positions and a lot of them had the same fears and lack of confidence that I had. It was nice to have that connection with people going through the same things. The program builds you up and gives you the confidence you need to be successful as a municipal executive.”

Eastpointe City Manager Mariah Walton graduated from the program in 2020 after recently completing a master’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University. From her graduate program she knew she wanted to be a municipal manager and the Women’s Municipal Leadership Program showed her the way.

“There’s no question that if I didn’t go through the Women’s Municipal Leadership Program, I wouldn’t have become a city manager as quickly as I did,” said Walton, who got the Eastpointe city manager job in May of 2022 at age 29. “The program gave me the confidence I needed to succeed. They taught us about standing in your power and really owning who you are. I’m a woman, and a younger woman, and a woman of color. And now I’m among a handful of women of color who are municipal managers. It’s been an incredible journey.”

Click here to learn more about the program and meet past program participants.

For additional information, contact the League’s Matt Bach, assistant director of communications and media, at (810) 874-1073 (cell) and [email protected].

Michigan Municipal League is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities. The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. Learn more at


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