Dr. Paula Johnson, president of Wellesley College, discusses the importance of diversity and female leadership in local government during the first Women Elected Municipal Officials Leadership Conference on July 20 at Wellesley College.

The importance of effective communication and building support systems were prominent topics during the Women Elected Municipal Officials’ first Leadership Conference on July 20 at Wellesley College.

The keynote speaker, Wellesley College President Dr. Paula Johnson, discussed the vital role local officials play in communities.

“You are ground zero for our democracy,” she said. “All of you are so representative of our [Wellesley College] mission, as women making a difference in the world.”

Johnson discussed political events of the past few years and highlighted powerful images of women displayed around the globe, including women marching for causes on local and national stages, the U.S. women’s national soccer team triumph in the World Cup, and the many women recently elected to Congress. She stressed the importance of women supporting each other.

“Simply by running for office, you sent a message about what leadership looks like,” she said. “And every day you serve that message is further amplified. … Your accomplishments light the way for girls and other women.

“It is so important to forge these ties with those who have travelled the same or similar roads, to trade ideas, share strategies, laugh and commiserate.”

Johnson highlighted the importance of human interaction at the local level, citing the oft-used quote, “It takes a village,” and reminding attendees that it is harder to make others “the other” when you are living, eating and working together.

The conference featured two panel discussions. In the first, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Wakefield Town Councillor Mehreen Butt and Boston City Councillor Annissa Essaibi-George addressed how women can support each other. Panelists discussed their paths to elected office, issues they have encountered, and the need for connection among women elected municipal officials to help each other navigate local government.

“To me, it’s about cracking that ceiling and then bringing people on up with us,” said Butt.

During her first run for mayor, Driscoll said she heard from constituents, both men and women, that even though she was a strong, smart and capable candidate, Salem was not going to vote for a woman.

Driscoll also described how Salem tracks the city’s demographic profile and how that is reflected in its employees. The question to answer, she said, is, “How do we engage fully to reflect our community?”

Rep. Joan Meschino shared insight from her career in forging connections among women across generations.

“It is on us to reach out,” she said. “We need to stick together.”

Attendees dived into media relations during a session with Jackie Lucas, president of Vera Voce Communications, and Lauren Goldberg, principal at KP Law.

Lucas discussed the value of public officials identifying their voice while campaigning for – and holding – office. She applied strategic communication concepts to concerns raised in the room throughout the day, including ways to better serve constituents and bring more engagement into local government by sharing information and using calls to action.

Goldberg focused on the state’s public records and open meeting laws when applied to communications, including emails and social media usage, and how to separate the professional from the personal.

The meeting was hosted in partnership with Wellesley College. WEMO also hosts an annual luncheon during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show each January.

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