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Women Lead at the County of Santa Clara on International Women's Day and Every Day

COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — The County of Santa Clara would not be able to function without the leadership and vital contributions of women every day at all levels of the organization.

Nearly two-thirds of County employees identify as female, along with a majority of the County’s executive leadership. Women comprise a majority on the Board of Supervisors.

So, it goes without saying that the County is proud to celebrate International Women’s Day, recognizing the achievements of women and raising awareness of gender discrimination.

The County of Santa Clara has long been a leader in addressing discrimination against women. The County’s Commission on the Status of Women, established in 1973, was the first of its kind in California, while the County’s Office of Women’s Policy, created in 1998, was one of the first in the nation.

Still, there is much work to be done to ensure that women are treated equitably, not just in the South Bay but throughout the world.

“I feel so proud to lead an organization where the majority of our workforce is women and where such a large percentage of our workforce is women of color,” said Greta Hansen, the County’s Chief Operating Officer. “We have a highly diverse workforce compared to most organizations, and that diversity is a critical strength of our County. It allows us to better understand and better serve our entire community."

Sixty-five percent of County employees identify as women, while 53% of the County’s executive leaders are female. This year, newly elected Supervisor Sylvia Arenas joined Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Board President Susan Ellenberg to form the first female majority on the Board of Supervisors since 1990.

“Women bring unique perspectives and strengths to leadership,” said Hansen, who became the County’s first female Chief Operating Officer last year. “We bring empathy and emotional intelligence. We bring our experiences as mothers, daughters, leaders and caregivers in our own families and in the broader community. We also bring our experience of overcoming stereotypes, discrimination and the challenges of living in a society that continues to be very patriarchal and discriminatory to women."

For Deputy County Executive Kasey Halcón, one of the traits of a good leader is investing in employees and encouraging them to bring their whole selves to the workplace.

“The quality of service that any individual employee can provide is directly related to their ability to feel supported and understood in the workplace,” said Halcón. “As a leader, my investment in a County employee is an investment in the community, because an employee who feels seen and heard and led with integrity is more likely to provide excellent service to our community.”

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is “Embrace Equity,” with a focus on removing the systemic barriers that prevent women from realizing their full potential. 

In Santa Clara County, the Office of Women’s Policy leads the County’s efforts to address gender discrimination and develop equitable policies and programs. Recent achievements include the County’s pay equity policy; the Family Friendly Workplace Certification Program, which recognizes local businesses that build supportive workplaces for employees and their families; and reducing to nearly zero the number of girls under 18 who are incarcerated. Working with colleagues in the County’s Division of Equity and Social Justice, the office helps meet the needs of vulnerable populations and empower women and minority groups.

This August, the Office of Women’s Policy will celebrate its 25th anniversary, while the Commission on the Status of Women will commemorate its 50th anniversary.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked some of the County’s female leaders for their advice to young women about their future careers. 

Susan Ellenberg, District 4 Supervisor and President of the Board of Supervisors:

“First, make sure you know how government works and build relationships with local community leaders and elected representatives. Be involved, make sure your voice is heard and your opinion is both acknowledged and sought.    

“Second, use your tools of critical analysis to examine everything you hear, read and see. Verify information before leaping into action, outrage or celebration.   

“Third, be empathetic. When you encounter someone who holds an opposing viewpoint, learn about the person’s experiences, life journey and challenges. Even if you don’t agree, you must always see a whole human in front of you.”   

Cindy Chavez, District 2 Supervisor:

“Be open to try different challenges, to push the envelope and not be afraid of failure. Find out what works and what doesn’t work for you and, in the process, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. Learn about the world by pushing yourself to explore and understand other cultures to have a better understanding of the world we live in today.”    

Greta Hansen, Chief Operating Officer:

“I think girls should know that they can do absolutely anything that they want to do; that we are living in unprecedented times where the specific skills, experiences and things that they learn and know growing up as women are increasingly valued in every work context; and that they should feel free to bring their whole selves and experiences into their professional lives.

“And they should know there are a whole lot of women leaders in key positions who are here to support them in doing that. Particularly in public service, there are opportunities to serve the community and lead the effort to create a more equitable society for everyone – whether it's based on gender, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any facet of a person’s identity.” 

Kasey Halcón, Deputy County Executive:

“First, never make yourself smaller for anybody, including yourself. If you have a belief about who you are and what you can be, do it. Challenge yourself.

“The second part is, find a mentor if you have a career that you're interested in. If there's something you find fascinating, seek out someone you can work with and ask questions of.

“And if there's anybody out there who's interested in government work, they can come right up to the 11th floor here at the County Government Center and talk to me or anybody here. We'd be more than happy to sit down with them and help them understand the breadth, the depth, the beauty that is community service and government work and connect them with anything they need.

“So, don't be afraid. Take the elevator up, show up on our doorstep and ask us to show up for you – and we will.” 

Consuelo Hernandez, Director of the Office of Supportive Housing:

“Be kind and don't compare yourself to anybody else. It’s easy to think you aren't successful when you measure yourself against people. I strongly encourage young women to be authentic, be themselves, and to only measure themselves against the goals that they have set for themselves.”