Joni Wickham leads one of the most influential, fast-paced offices in city. She influences public policy, shapes community programs and empowers women leaders.
When her boss, Kansas City Major Sly James, needs her, she’s there. Except one afternoon a week, when she leaves early (with her boss’ encouragement) so she never misses her 5-year-old daughter’s dance class.
When Joni accepted the job of the mayor’s chief of staff, it came with one condition – that she wouldn’t miss anything important happening in her daughter Vivian’s life.
“I try very hard not to miss anything critical at work or in my daughter’s life.”
Being a mother wasn’t something that was always part of Joni’s plan. After earning her master’s degree from the University of Missouri – Columbia, Joni worked for nearly two decades in federal and state politics. When Mayor Sly James won the mayorial race in 2011, she got the call to join his communications team. She was ready for change both professionally and personally, and packed her bags for Kansas City.
She married her husband, an attorney in KC, in 2012 and found out soon afterward that she was (surprise!) pregnant. She didn’t have paid maternity leave, and like many families, she and her husband had to figure out how to juggle welcoming a new baby into their home with the demands of working full time. It was soon after she returned to work that the Mayor offered her the promotion to chief of staff – a position that comes with unpredictable demands on her time – a reality she manages with the help of her husband, step children and parents who just moved closer.
“It’s crazy central. My schedule can change abruptly, so it takes some flexibility, and a lot of coffee, to keep up with our office and my family’s busy schedule” Joni says.
One of her most meaningful projects with the mayor’s office was establishing a blueprint for women’s empowerment, which included the creation of a paid leave policy, making Kansas City one of the first cities in the nation to offer its employees paid leave.
The initiative also established partnerships with the business and nonprofit community to make Kansas City a place where women are no longer underrepresented. In collaboration with the Appointments Project run by the Women’s Foundation, there are deliberate efforts to appointment women leaders to civic boards, committees and appointments.
“We’ve changed people’s perspectives on what it means to be a family friendly business for women,” Joni says. “I hope the next mayor takes women’s empowerment as seriously as this administration has.”
Joni says that motherhood has made her a more dedicated city employee rather than lessen her driven nature.
“I was worried that would go away,” Joni recalls. “But, it makes me want to be successful even more. I love working to help better the city my daughter will grow up in.”