Taking a seat at the boys’ table

Two ways to change perceptions about roles and genders

By Ilana Gensler, MA’19

“A real man drives a truck, you know what I mean guys?” says a public official at The Department of Public Works for the city of Providence, Rhode Island, which services approximately 190,000 residents. Two high-ranking male DPW team members clarify they do not drive a truck, to which Maureen “Mo” McManus, AS’07 replies, “I do, sir,” which is met with great surprise.

Women make up 9% of the DPW workforce in Providence. McManus has represented one out of ten women in the entire department. Before today, it was even less. Now, McManus is the highest-ranking female at DPW in one of the most essential departments in the Capital City. McManus assists in directing seven divisions—which include approximately 110 team members and 150 vehicles and equipment—while simultaneously supporting women so that they can contribute to the fabric of their work culture. Here’s how she does it.

Have a voice at the table through representation

Since her time at DPW, McManus has assisted in moving seven women into their desired roles. “We currently have two female Division Heads and recently hired the first female laborer in the highway division,“ says McManus, “and we need to give women the opportunity to show they can get the work done just as well, or better, than their male counterparts.” In seeing one woman with multiple years at the city be passed up for a desired position several times, McManus leveraged her platform. “She applied for another position here, and I said, ‘We have to make this happen.’” McManus also noticed that DPW didn’t have many support programs in place for mothers when schools and daycares closed during the pandemic. “My job is to be the voice of people who are not in the room, and to look at workers holistically.” According to McManus, your staff is your greatest resource. “If you don’t believe that, you are not being a good leader,” says McManus.

Bring levity to work and spread positivity

“Working for city government you don’t get a lot of people saying, ‘Good job,’” says McManus, who capitalizes on any opportunity to dress in a costume or hang up inspiring mantras. “My job is to empower people to be their best selves,” says McManus. “Every job is essential to operations,” says McManus, “and everyone should be treated with respect no matter what job they perform—from a custodian to a plow driver.” Nationally, there is a vacuum of female leadership in the field of public works. The way McManus sees it, when you are the minority, you may need to navigate uncomfortable situations that others may not have to ever think about. “You can work hand in hand with men who have been around for 30+ years,” says McManus, “by being humble and asking, ‘What can I learn from you?’” At the end of the day, it’s about getting the job done as a team and building each other up, according to McManus. “If I can empower others to break boundaries, I will have accomplished something incredible.”

March 4, 2022

Maureen “Mo” McManus

“If I can empower others to break boundaries, I will have accomplished something incredible.”

Maureen “Mo” McManus, AS’07
Maureen “Mo” McManus, AS’07
McManus utilizes any opportunity to dress in costume