Performance Management

Inspirational Women in Local Government: Sandra Ghoston-Jones, Kent County, MI

Photo of Sandra Ghoston-Jones, Kent County, MI

Every year, we celebrate some of the inspirational women we work with in public service who are driving high performance in their local government organizations and positive change in their communities.

This year, as we emerge (hopefully) from two difficult years for gender equality, we wanted to not only highlight the achievements of women but also to talk about some of the challenges they’ve had to overcome during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ll be sharing the stories of five wonderful women throughout this International Women’s Week. As always, we hope to celebrate, inspire, and educate by sharing some of their wisdom.

Today, we’re talking with Sandra Ghoston-Jones, Management Analyst at Kent County, Michigan. (You can connect with Sandra here.)

Sandra, what are you reading right now?

I am reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See for fun. For work, I am reading Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

Tell me a little about your community, your role, and how you got here.

With a population of over 650,000, Kent County is the fourth largest county in Michigan and the largest outside of Metro Detroit. It was organized in 1836 and comprises 9 cities, 5 villages, and 21 townships, and it’s located a short distance from the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Our community is known to be family friendly, and rich with cultural opportunities such as music, and performance and visual art, including ArtPrize, which is recognized as the most attended public art event in the world. Over 100 languages are spoken here which has created an incredibly diverse community with great ethnic celebrations and restaurants! 

Kent County’s vision is to be a place where individuals and families choose to live, work, and play because we are a forward-looking, intentional, and inclusive community that serves as the economic engine of West Michigan.

I came to Kent County nearly 5 years ago from our local Area Agency on Aging where I was the Planner and Contracts Administrator. I had my sights on the role of Management Analyst for Kent County Administration for a long time and leapt at the opportunity when it became available; this position is perfect for someone who is proud to be a “nerd!”  

I have the good fortune every day to do what I love… read, research, write and THINK. I read multiple listservs, google alerts and newspapers each day looking for information and innovations in county government that could benefit Kent County. In addition, I respond to requests for information from our Board of Commissioners and County Administrator and work behind the scenes with our federal and state lobbyists to keep a pulse on our legislative priorities. In the past year, I have also become responsible for furthering our Performance Management program efforts with our 21 departments by strengthening our ongoing partnership with Envisio.

What are you most proud of professionally?

While there are myriad projects and initiatives that I have led successfully, they pale into comparison against what I am most proud of—my reputation. My grandfather used to say, “Never let your talent take you where your character won’t keep you.” I have never forgotten those words and work hard every day to make sure I can go home proud of what I’ve accomplished and who I am. 

I am a strong believer in forming and keeping relationships, being firm yet kind, and reflecting onto others how I want to be treated.  

There is a mountain of research that shows the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women. First off, how are you?

I am very fortunate and blessed that my family and I have not suffered from the negative impacts of the pandemic. I have stayed healthy—both physically and mentally.

Are you able to share some of the ways your life has changed over the last two years? Some of the challenges you have had to overcome?

Quickly pivoting to working from home and supervising the virtual schooling of my youngest three children was VERY challenging at first (plus a college student who had to return home).  Simply managing all of the Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc. calls was overwhelming.  

One would think the two high schoolers would have been the easiest to manage… they were not! Convincing them that they needed to be sitting up (in a chair, not in bed) to go to class was a daily discussion. Finding spaces in our home with a consistent wi-fi signal when we were all “working” virtually was often a challenge. My husband works 3rd shift in law enforcement and didn’t have a quiet environment to sleep during the day anymore…  

Despite the challenges, we made it work, and we recognize that we are fortunate to have the resources to meet our family’s needs.

I learned to let go of the small things that do not really matter in the long run. I realized that mental health and stability mean the most, especially when I consider how some families’ lives have been upended and forever changed during the past 2 years.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Week is “break the bias”. What can we ALL be doing to break the bias and foster greater gender equity in our workplaces?

We can begin by acknowledging that there is a gap between the rhetoric of “inclusivity” and real achievements in the workplace that put women in unexpected roles and places. Costly, largely ineffective measures have been tried and (mostly) failed. There needs to be a long-lasting commitment to combating and addressing gender biased attitudes. Gender equity isn’t just about pay, it is also about SEEING women as equals, as collaborators, as credible voices at the table who deserve a space as much as a man. It is about speaking up when you are spoken down to and when you hear off-color commentary that stereotypes women.

Are there other amazing women you know in public service that deserve a shout-out? Celebrate them here! 

The Kent County Communications and Government Relations Director, Lori Latham, is incredibly talented and one of the hardest working people I know. She is truly a rockstar! 

Liz Steward

Liz has spent over 15 years working at technology companies in London, Cambridge, and Vancouver. Liz's career began in govtech and she is thrilled to be back working with local governments at Envisio to help build public trust and drive performance excellence in public institutions.

A law school graduate and former Special Constable in the London Metropolitan Police, Liz has a deep interest in the role of police in society, international jurisprudence, and the relationship between inequality and the criminal justice system. She is also a strong advocate for women in leadership roles in both the technology sector and local government and has written on the subject for regional and industry publications.

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