By Lauren Herman

Editor’s Note: This blog post is the fifth of a five-part series profiling women leadership in the Sacramento region. It continues the theme of our December 2014 event, "This Changes Everything: WOMEN." These women were selected based on their contributions and participation in their community and industry. By means of this series, we hope to broaden our understanding of what constitutes a leader and provide a platform for ideas worth spreading. 


Debbie Manning: Law Enforcement Officer, Non-Profit Leader, and Advocate for Women

Debbie Manning is a Sacramentan, not only by birth, but because she has earned its respect from years of public service in the Capital Region. One of Debbie’s most recent “glass shattering” roles in our community is becoming the first woman and African American to serve as the California State Senate Chief Sergeant-at-Arms.

Debbie Manning, Sacramentan, Leader

Debbie Manning, Sacramentan, Leader

Her professional journey was not always easy. As those who distinguish themselves often do, Debbie often worked harder than her counterparts at the Office of the California Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. When she started at the Senate in 1977, the first women was elected to the California Senate the previous year. It was a time of change for the Capital.

Over the decades, the role of women in the Senate expanded by Debbie becoming the first female Sergeant to eventually becoming its Deputy Chief before her retirement.

Public service called her name once more when she came out of retirement to become the Chief Sergeant-at-Arms for the California State Senate in 2014. Debbie claimed her current high-level position as an opportunity to break barriers for other women in law enforcement, but also as an opportunity to return to something that she loves – public service.

She reflects back on her personal achievements as a benefit to her and current and future women in law enforcement. Debbie is also dedicated to the advancement of women in other professions through her role in Leadership California, a non-profit providing networking and support among women in California, serving on its Executive Advisory Council.

Debbie’s current work was never her dream job. She used to play hopscotch as a little girl staring at what she called “the wedding cake” building, but never knew the significance it would play in her life until after college. She reached for new heights throughout her career allowing her to work within the capital doors and to ensure the security of elected officials.

Her lesson for all of us is simple: go for it. If you don’t try, you will never know what you are capable of achieving. She knows this to be true after decades of reaching beyond what she thought she was capable of achieving. Failure is always a possibility in life, but it should never limit your direction.


The Interview: Debbie’s Ideas Worth Spreading

TEDxSacramento: Why did you choose your current career?

Debbie: The better question is why did I come back [out of retirement] after six years? I came back to work at the Capital because, at my core, I am a public servant. Public service is part of my life.

Since retirement, I have worked with international women’s groups through Leadership California [a non-profit dedicated to fostering relationships and networks between women in California]. I am inspired by the women leaders around the world whom I have met, many of whom experience harassment, but are still dedicated to serving as leaders.

When I was offered this leadership role [as Chief Sergeant-at-Arms], a position that no other woman has held, I jumped at the chance. How could I say no? I wanted to further my role as a woman leader, and I wanted to show that a woman can do this job. There are not many women in law enforcement, so I thought how important this opportunity is to promote females in law enforcement.

TEDxSacramento: What motivates you to push forward during difficult moments in your career?

Debbie: The fear of failure. As a woman in this field [law enforcement], I have pushed myself hard to make sure that the women who come after me have the same opportunities that I have. I want to make sure that opportunities for other women are open, rather than closed, because of me.

TEDxSacramento: What advice do you have for others in your field?

Debbie: Go for it! Women are rare in law enforcement, but the training and requirements are not insurmountable. Women are invaluable to the field. In my experience, women have the patience along with the ability to multitask and compromise to work through things that are necessary to be a successful law enforcement officer.

TEDxSacramento: Does anyone in your field inspire you? If so, who and why?

Debbie: There were no other women when I started working here [at the California State Senate Sergeant-at-Arms office]. But, there were many men in my field who helped me to see that I was capable of more than I thought I could do. My former boss [the former Chief Sergeant-at-Arms] gave me many opportunities where I gained the knowledge and experience to perform the job I currently hold. Today, I admire Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton, who have forged their own voices. I strive to do the same.

TEDxSacramento: What do you like most about working in the Sacramento region?

Debbie: I am a native daughter to Sacramento. I grew up on 11th street where I played hopscotch while staring at what I called the wedding cake building [the State Capital]. I didn’t know what it was, so I never thought I would be here now. I grew up in a political family, a Republican household. My grandmother, the matriarch of the household, was an active Republican. I appreciate the involvement of Sacramentans in politics. I grew up talking about politics, so it is what I love about Sacramento.

TEDxSacramento: What is your favorite TED talk? How do the ideas of this talk impact your life? 

Debbie: My favorite TED Talk is Sheryl Sandberg’s famous talk, “Why we have too few women leaders.” Her talk was all over Facebook, so I decided to watch it. Being a little older then Sheryl Sandberg, I was not aware of the many assumptions we as women took as fact. She challenges our assumptions and why things are the way they are for women in the workforce. Her candid talk questions why there are not more women leaders resonated with me, especially being the only woman who has held my position [as the California Senate Chief Sergeant-at-Arms].

TEDxSacramento: If you could speak on the TED stage, what would be your idea worth spreading?

Debbie: I would talk about going for it. I would urge others, especially women, to not be afraid to try new things. You don’t have to know everything before you start a new job or position. We all learn things our own way; all you need to do is jump in and get working.

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