A Mayor’s Perspective: Women and Automation on the Rise


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Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley reflects on the changing conversation around technology and why executive roles in politics have been particularly difficult for women to obtain.

This is the second year Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley has attended Civic I/O, the mayor’s summit at South by Southwest in Austin. We caught up with her to discuss what she was taking away from the conference, her thoughts on the progress of women in politics, automation, and plans to rebuild the “emotional centerpiece of the city” of Dayton.

Check out the full video above, as well as our key takeaways.

What people are talking about at SXSW this year:

“Everywhere there’s a bit more of the dystopic flavor of what could happen if technology isn’t well regulated—not even [just] at Civic I/O but across the sessions—that’s what I’m taking away. Which I’m glad to see frankly because I think people know that automation is coming faster and faster and there needs to be regulations to protect humans and I think that’s where the conversations are right now.”

On Automation and Dayton:

“We are going to continue to be aggressive in adopting technology. I mean it is the reason we have 40 percent less employees in Dayton during the Great Recession—we had to make those cuts, technology helped us out in it.

“But at the same time, we are paying attention and advocating for how people land out of automation. You know, we’ve had significant automation in manufacturing. We have plants that don’t even have lights on because there’s no people in them but they’re still producing in the region. So what’s the next step—particularly around logistics and transportation—and advocating around making sure that our workforce is growing and differently, but making sure those people have good landings.”

On how we retrain workers who lose jobs to automation:

“I think the other thing that really resonates everywhere is that the model we have around training is just ineffective; I think that’s the next thing that needs to really be disrupted, frankly, is how we really innovate around workforce.”

“I think we’re still in the early stages, but certainly I think there’s a lot more discussion around apprenticeships, not just for your standard trades apprenticeship—which, by  the way, is the system that has actually worked the most effectively in the 150 years of keeping the workforce trained in those sectors. I think there is a lot of looking at that and then figuring out ways that we have apprenticeship for coders, for example, so people learn on the job.”

“I think where more disruption needs to happen is how do you transition people, particularly who are older in the workforce, and I don’t think there’s enough discussion around that and I think there needs to be more advocacy around that.”

On Women In Executive Leadership Roles:

“I think the legislature will move faster than the executive branch; and we’re seeing that, right? The percentages of women in Congress versus the percentages of women in the top 200 cities as mayors is still higher in Congress.

“Judges, for example: it’s not uncommon now to have a majority of a bench be women. So, you’re seeing it from the bottom up: judicial, legislatively and now we’re trying to really crack executive.”

“I think there’s a lot of pejorative-ness on executive leadership that is gendered masculinity. So I think that’s the challenge with the executive: we have to have more women that aren’t just acting like men in these positions which is what, you know, typically first wave leaders have to do. But as we continue to have second and third generation—like, I’m so happy I’m not a first generation mayor breaking the glass ceiling on that—but then you get to do it your own way, and that allows more women to say ‘oh, I can do it my own way, okay I’m interested in that.’ So I think that what helps grow it.”

Revitalization in Dayton:

“We are really close to closing a deal called The Arcade. It’s a seven-building development that was built a hundred years ago that is the emotional centerpiece of the city.”

“We’re trying to build the new businesses that will be in the next 20 years from the ground [up] …. Where we see growth is the place where we see the businesses that come from our community. Building that intellectual capital in our city is really important, and then it ties with the past because the Arcade is such an emotional building for our city that it will really show people the downtown resurgence is really real.”

Mitch Herckis is the Senior Editor and Director of Strategic Initiatives for Route Fifty.

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