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Toni Preckwinkle's binderful of women

Monday, December 10, 2012
Crain's Chicago Business
by Shia Kapos

When Cook County Chief Information Officer Lydia Murray's team met with executives from Securus Technologies to hammer out a deal to cut phone rates for jail inmates, she was struck by the makeup of the negotiators.

The corporate side was all men and one woman, and the Cook County side was all women and a man.

“It's sister power,” she said of her team.

As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle celebrates her two-year anniversary, she's made a mark in the county for hiring a group of strong, hard-working, dedicated women — a lot of them.

Fifty-five percent of Ms. Preckwinkle's administrative staff consists of women, compared with 39 percent in the previous administration. That's 27 women in decision-making roles and 22 men.

I imagine former presidential candidate Mitt Romney would call that a pretty big binderful of women.

In a round-table discussion with a few of Ms. Preckwinkle's top managers, they said their hires have less to do with gender and more to do with getting the work done.

“Women are good listeners,” said Doris Salomon, director of external affairs, noting that it's especially noticeable in meetings and brainstorming sessions.

But the listening also plays out in other ways.

“President Preckwinkle is trying to do a lot, and because of that it can be a high-stress environment,” said Juliana Stratton, executive director at the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, the public-safety policy arm of the Cook County Board. “So there are women I've been able to connect with when you're having one of those days and you need to vent and then get back on track.”

G.A. Finch, Ms. Preckwinkle's new chief of staff, says all the girl power “reflects how far women have come; they're being recognized for their individual merits and all the resources and skill-sets that have really not been fully utilized.”

"As a county government or society, we get the full benefit of more than half the population. I see it in terms of the quality of the performance and the services we deliver as an executive team," said Mr. Finch.

Did it require some fine-tuning in how you work in the office? Not at all, said Mr. Finch, the married father of two daughters and a son.

“I've been well-trained to appreciate all the talents that women can bring to the table,” he said.

Here are the names of the women pictured in the photo:

Front (left to right) Doris Salomon, Mary Jo Horace, Maureen O'Donnell, Lydia Murray, Letitia Close, Robin Kelly, Laura Lechowicz Felicione, Andrea Gibson, Jessey Neves. Back (left to right) Dr. Donna Alexander, Carole Hillgamyer, Shannon Andrews, Deborah Stone, Lourdes Coss, Juliana Stratton, MaryNic Foster, Lisa Walik, Angela Bailey, Anna Ashcraft, Zahra Ali, Lisa Meador, Laura Burman, Reshma Soni, Maria Choca-Urban.

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