International Women’s Day: Q&A with Calgary’s first female City Manager

Today marks International Women’s Day, a global celebration recognizing the achievements of women. On this day, across our nation and throughout the world, women’s contributions will be reflected on and the progress made noted.

At The City of Calgary, we mark the day with a look at the most senior administrative position, the City Manager, now held by Glenda Cole, Q.C.

On Feb. 25, 2019, Cole made City history becoming the first woman to hold the position after taking the helm when Jeff Fielding stepped down. As City Manager, Cole oversees all City departments and works closely with the Mayor and Council on matters of importance to Calgarians. Cole appreciates the opportunity to both lead and to serve as a team member with all City employees in working together to provide exceptional public service to make Calgarians’ lives better every day and Calgary a great place to make a living and a great place to make a life.

Although the name City Manager has changed throughout the years, one thing has until now remained constant - the role has been held by a man. With Cole called upon to lead, the glass ceiling has been broken at The City.

The significance of having a woman city manager is amplified by being the first. Especially as this year’s International Women’s Day theme calls for gender-balance in boardrooms, media coverage, employees, wealth, sports coverage and in government. Cole is used to breaking the glass ceiling. Prior to becoming City Manager she was the first female City Solicitor and General Counsel.

Balance for better continues the conversation about the role of women in boardrooms, noting that it’s more than a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. Gender balanced boardrooms and gender-balanced governments are essential for economies and communities to thrive.

“I am proud of all my City colleagues but today, want to particularly recognize and celebrate the incredible contribution of all of the amazing women within both our Administration and on City Council,” said Cole. “I hope all City employees make time today to reflect on how their leadership, inspiration, achievements, mentoring, coaching, friendship, and support has positively impacted our lives”.

In a recent interview, Glenda shared her insights in response to the following questions:

Did you ever think that you would be the first female city manager in Calgary? What does that accomplishment feel like?

Serving in this role is an incredible privilege. I never imagined that I would have this opportunity but thinking back to when I joined The City in 1987 as an articling student in the Law Department, I could never have imagined having any of the diverse and wonderful opportunities I’ve had in the corporation. I have been so fortunate in my career to have had incredible mentors who saw potential in me and encouraged me to undertake stretch assignments. My career path has been one of following great people doing fascinating work, rather than charting a course for my career based on position titles.

This is my 13th position in 32 years and I hope that everything I’ve learned from hundreds of City employees while serving in those roles has positioned me for success in advancing the incredible legacy that former City Manager Fielding left us. I am so proud to work for an organization in which City employees demonstrate every day the values of individual responsibility and collective accountability and display the 4 Cs of character, commitment, collaboration, and competence in their service to Calgarians.

What is the biggest issue you feel you will face as the first woman City Manager?

Ensuring that I live up to my own expectations for my performance in this role. I think we’re all a work in progress. My first role models were my mom and dad and my brother Grant and I consider every day whether I’m living up to the example they set for me. I have tried throughout my career to absorb the best of the leadership attributes I have seen from the elected officials and City employees I’ve had the privilege of engaging with. My goal has always been to ensure that I consistently demonstrate the best of those attributes regardless of the position I am in.

I am passionate about pursuing continuing professional and personal development opportunities and am constantly reading Harvard Business Review articles and books on leadership, accountability, change management, and resilience to try to enhance my own performance. The book I’m reading right now is called “Grit” and it’s about the power of passion and perseverance. I also love finding opportunities to listen to the aspirations of others and to learn from them more about the culture we need to ensure we attract new and retain great City colleagues. It was a thrill for me today to attend the City’s orientation session to meet our newest colleagues at The City. During my comments there I emphasized the huge benefit we all receive from having colleagues with diverse experiences, educations and backgrounds in our corporation. We are diverse both in terms of the services we provide and the colleagues who deliver them. The key for us is to ensure that we are inclusive and that everyone benefits from a safe, respectful and supportive workplace.

What changes have you seen over the past 32 years in terms of the gender-balance at The City?

We now have a very clear focus on the importance of everyone working together to ensure a safe, respectful, inclusive, and supportive workplace for all City employees. I have seen considerable progress in many parts of our corporation in terms of the profile and the advancement opportunities that women now have relative to what they had in past. I am very pleased with the Code of Conduct training we’ve all recently taken and with all of the information that Human Resources has made available to us about avoiding unconscious bias and ensuring respect for human rights. Generally speaking, I see more and more people within The City openly discussing the need for us to be ever vigilant about ensuring that we are inclusive in everything we do. I was privileged to present at our Experience Inclusion day last fall and was deeply touched by the personal stories about the importance of inclusion that so many of our colleagues shared that day. I also applaud Council’s focus on developing a Gender Diversity Strategy and I appreciate the invitation I received to serve as the executive sponsor of the work of the great project team undertaking this initiative.

However, ensuring gender-balance, along with ensuring inclusion generally, remains a work in progress and we need to be ever vigilant in ensuring that we truly have a safe, respectful, inclusive, and supportive workplace for all City employees. We are individually responsible and collectively accountable for ensuring this.