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A Celebration of Women

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
April 3, 2021

In March we celebrate international women’s month in order to give recognition to all the women who have fought to make a difference in the lives of their communities. Like in many industries, public administration has been dominated primarily by men. Through the advocacy efforts against discriminatory practices and policies, women have gained increased access to positions of leadership within public administration. Challenges to the status quo, such as the Civil Rights Act and Equal Pay Act, are two examples of the hard work and perseverance to build equity and inclusion for women and minorities within our discipline. We should not celebrate the accomplishments of women in our field only once per year, but really make the effort to regularly encourage the development and impact that young women and our future leaders can have on us today. By learning from the past efforts to change our society and the women who took those chances, we can build a strong future together.

We all become political activists at some point during our career, the moment we provide an opinion or work on changes to policies or laws; it is the basis of our profession to make necessary improvements for an improved society. Public administration is about developing laws and policies designed to support the public. Throughout history there have been incredibly courageous women that have spoken out against injustice and we continue to realize there is much work yet to be done. As more and more women are coming up in the ranks of high level politics and society, this lays the groundwork for future leaders. As Molly Dewson once wrote, “I am a firm believer in progress for women coming through appointments here and there and a first class job by the women who are the lucky ones chosen to demonstrate.” Women are breaking ground in varied legislative areas beyond traditional topics such as childcare and family issues, making impacts in the sciences and business fields which will have a lasting impact on our communities and the economic recovery we need to move forward.

Similar to the struggles of many, the contributions and accomplishments of women have many times been overlooked or discredited because of the social structure created by the dominant masculine culture in our country. As public confidence continues to grow in government relations, we see more women entering the field independently because they see other women taking these risks to make changes in policy. It is our time now to push the envelope and continue making names for ourselves. We are no longer asking permission to pursue desired careers and instead are forging a new path for ourselves as we develop our social networks and career identities. It is important as community leaders that we inspire our young women to join our ranks and field of practice to continue pushing back against the status quo and building a future we can be proud of.

Even from the early days of our nation there have been women working to change history, at first speaking through their male counterparts until we got voices of our own. There have been incredible hurdles we’ve had to overcome to gain equity, inclusion and basic rights afforded us through years-long journeys for civil rights. The fight for equality is not over and will take a lot more energy to keep up until we have achieved full rights for every citizen.

As public administrators, it is our responsibility to guide the future of our discipline and we can do this through targeted recruitment of young women, mentorship of those interested in pursuing careers in government, challenging policies and laws that are discriminatory or sexist in nature and developing educational programs that are designed to advance our profession. Creating an avenue that pushes the boundaries, as our foremothers did, to make an impression on our future will allow us to be successful administrators.


Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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