Report finds few counties in compliance with gender balance legislation

May 7, 2013
ISU report finds few counties in compliance with gender balance legislation
Valerie Hennings is collecting data on county boards and commissions membership for the Gender Balance Project. Credit: Bob Elbert

Just two of Iowa's 99 counties have achieved gender balance on appointed boards and commissions, according to a new report by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University and Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women.

The report examines the gender composition of seven boards and commissions commonly found at the county level. This includes the Board of Adjustment, Board of Health, Board of Review, Compensation Board, Conservation Board, Planning and Development Commission and . The report also makes note of how many of these boards are found in each county.

Only Johnson and Van Buren counties comply with the gender balance law, according to the center's report. The code requires one gender make up no more than half of the membership on a board or commission with an even number of members. For uneven numbered boards, one gender cannot make up more than half, plus one. However, the law does not require counties to report or track gender balance, which led the Catt Center to compile the data.

"We need to see how and to what extent the legislation is being implemented," said Valerie Hennings, a scholar-in-residence at the Catt Center. "Then we can use these numbers as a way to recruit and educate about these opportunities to get involved at the local and county levels."

The data show that nearly all other counties have at least one board that complies with the state law for gender balance. Only Hamilton County – which has five boards within the scope of the study – had zero. There are six counties that are still compiling data for the report or have yet to reply to the Catt Center's request. Still, Hennings is encouraged by the results and the fact that local leaders are working to achieve gender balance.

"County auditors and city clerks recognize that not all their boards are gendered balanced, and they're asking for suggestions to recruit more women," Hennings said. "This has led to conversations about what does work and how we can best recruit the individuals needed to achieve gender balance."

Both Hennings and Dianne Bystrom, director of the Catt Center, hope the report leads to opportunities to educate women about serving on local boards. As part of its partnership with the Catt Center, the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women plan to create an online "talent pool" for local leaders to utilize.

"Friends will build a database of women who are ready, willing and able to serve on a local board or commission," said Michelle Durand-Adams, past president of Friends. "We will collaborate with women's organizations all across the state to help populate the database. Community leaders may view the Friends database to identify local woman to fill open positions."

Not just an issue for women

It's also important to note that the gender balance legislation is not solely intended to recruit women, said Bystrom. She points to municipal boards, such as public libraries, as examples in which men are often underrepresented. Research shows that gender balance brings a variety of views and experiences to boards or commissions.

"Gender-balanced boards are often more collaborative, productive and, thus, more effective in serving their communities," Bystrom said.

There's also evidence that women who serve in this capacity may consider running for an elected office in the future. Recruiting more women candidates for political office is an ongoing goal of the Catt Center and Friends.

"By promoting women to serve on these boards and commissions, we hope that they'll build a political resume and then see the potential of running for office at the local, county and even state level in Iowa," Bystrom said.

Phyllis Peters, secretary of Friends, agrees.

"I believe a broader inclusion of women in determining the use of public tax dollars and policy directions at the city and county levels will make our government more responsive and effective," Peters said.

Ongoing data collection

The Catt Center plans to add to the report as it receives information from the remaining six counties. Hennings is also collecting data for Iowa's 99 county seats and the 200 largest cities, which includes some county seats, to see where municipalities rank on achieving gender balance. So far, more than 100 communities have responded, and nine comply with the state law. A full report should be complete this summer.

However, compliance, as defined by state law, does not mean women hold an equal number of seats on local boards. For example, of the six appointed boards and commissions in Johnson County reviewed in the study, only 39 percent of the 28 total seats are held by women. The boards are considered gender-balanced, but because some boards have an uneven number of seats, men outnumber women.

Iowa is the only state in the nation with state code that requires gender balance on boards at the state, county and municipal level. The law does include an exception to the rule if local leaders cannot find a qualified candidate, after three months, to comply with the gender requirements.

Explore further: Striking a balance in the boardroom

More information: cattcenter.las.iastate.edu/catt-research/women-in-iowa-politics-database/gender-balance-project/

Related Stories

Striking a balance in the boardroom

December 18, 2012

Companies have been very slow in recruiting more women board directors; but according to an EU report the period between October 2010 and January 2012 has seen the best progress in improving the gender balance on company ...

California's glass ceiling may take a century to crack

December 8, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The proportion of women who lead California’s largest companies is growing at such a slow pace that it will take more than a century for women business leaders to achieve parity with men, a UC Davis ...

Women on board: Does forced diversity hurt firm performance?

February 9, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- New SEC rules will require public firms to disclose what role, if any, diversity plays in appointing members to their corporate boards, but University of Michigan researchers say any forced restructuring ...

Study: Top California company leaders dominated by men

December 6, 2012

(Phys.org)—The 400 largest companies headquartered in California, representing almost $3 trillion in shareholder value, still resemble a "boys' club" with women filling fewer than 10 percent of top executive jobs, a University ...

Women more likely to recruit other women for political office

August 8, 2011

The gender composition of those responsible for candidate recruitment plays a crucial role in either encouraging or discouraging women candidates to run for office, according to a recent study in Political Research Quarterly ...

Recommended for you

Game theory research reveals fragility of common resources

September 29, 2016

New research in game theory shows that people are naturally predisposed to over-use "common-pool resources" such as transportation systems and fisheries even if it risks failure of the system, to the detriment of society ...

Giant dinosaur footprint discovered in Mongolia desert

September 30, 2016

One of the biggest dinosaur footprints ever recorded has been unearthed in the Gobi Desert, researchers said Friday, offering a fresh clue about the giant creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago.

3-D printed fish fossil may reveal origin of human teeth

September 30, 2016

Three-dimensional prints of a 400 million year old fish fossil from around Lake Burrinjuck in southeast Australia reveal the possible evolutionary origins of human teeth, according to new research by The Australian National ...

Humans may have occupied Southern Cone 14,000 years ago

September 29, 2016

Humans may have occupied the Southern Cone 14,000 years ago, according to a study published September 28, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Gustavo Politis from CONICET and the Universidad Nacional del Centro de ...

Ancient reptile fossils claw for more attention

September 29, 2016

Newly recovered fossils confirm that Drepanosaurus, a prehistoric cross between a chameleon and an anteater, was a small reptile with a fearsome finger. The second digit of its forelimb sported a massive claw.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.