New York City

Being a woman in government policy, with Maria Torres-Springer

Discussing gender parity in the workplace with Maria Torres-Springer.

City & State Gender Parity Summit

City & State Gender Parity Summit Jeff Coltin

Maria Torres-Springer has been one of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s key managers, leading three separate business and development agencies over the mayor’s time in City Hall. Now the Housing Preservation and Development commissioner, Torres-Springer spoke at City & State’s Gender Parity Summit on Wednesday afternoon. She sat on a panel on equity in business leadership, and shared three stories illustrating the importance to an organization’s success of having women in leadership (these answers have been lightly edited).

Her first story, which she said shows that employees may be more comfortable proposing family-friendly policies like paid family leave to a woman, comes from her time as president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

“When I started at EDC – it was probably just a few weeks into at the role – senior leaders brought to me a proposal to change the parental leave policy at EDC to make it really the most generous in the city. I’d like to think that was my idea, but it wasn’t. Clearly it took them more than a couple weeks to write. It had been something that was in the hopper. When I started there (it seemed) that having a woman leader in that role provided people with an opportunity, an opening to push the envelope a little bit more. That was profoundly important to me. The ability to make sure that it’s the type of place that can attract and retain really talented women over the years will only serve that organization well.”

Torres-Springer talked about the importance of moving beyond conversations about gender parity into taking concrete actions to achieve that goal. She shared a story of a time doing just that from her time as the city’s small business services commissioner.

“When I was at Small Business Services, I was at a panel convened by the New York Women’s Foundation about the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in this city. And there are many of them. I remember sitting in that panel thinking, ‘someone really ought to do something about this.’ My second thought was, ‘I’m the fucking commissioner. I should do something!’ So we started something right after that, a program which really is the first of its kind in the country, one of the things I’m, to this day, most proud of, called WE NYC, Women Entrepreneurs NYC. In order to provide aspiring women entrepreneurs of this city with very concrete resources – access to capital, mentoring, networking – so that they can start and grow their business.”

The commissioner’s last example was more personal, sharing her story as a mother of two young daughters, and how it reminded her of the importance of women in leadership.

“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life: In 2016, the morning (after) the (presidential) election, when my daughter went to bed not knowing the results and I had to – and, literally, I wrote it out, because I didn’t know how to do it – I had to find a way to explain to her what happened. It could have been that in her entire life, and she was 6 at the time, she only would have known a black president and a woman president. And I had to tell her about a different reality. And it reminded me in that moment and to this day, that this work is so important and it’s never linear.”