Government

Iowa counties fall short on gender-balanced boards

Only 4 meet goal, down from two years ago

Only four of Iowa’s 99 counties have achieved gender balance on all their appointed boards and commissions, according to a new study. And that number is down from two years ago.

Winneshiek, Scott, Harrison and Jasper counties were the only places to achieve gender balance on all seven of the boards and commissions studied by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

In 2016, six counties achieved gender balance on all their boards, which was an increase from two years earlier.

Fifteen counties fell one board short of being balanced.

Kelly Winfrey, coordinator of research and outreach for the center, said there is better representation of women on boards of health, 78 percent of which are gender balanced.

But only 40 percent of compensation boards — which recommend raises for county elected officials — are gender balanced.

Women make up 34 percent of board members and 24 percent of board chairs in Iowa counties, up 1 percentage point in both categories from 2016.

Iowa has required gender balance at the state level since 1987.

In 2009, that requirement was extended to county and city boards. The law went into effect in 2012.

However, counties and cities were given an out if they made a “good-faith effort” for three months and still were unable to comply.

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Critics said at the time the law was flawed because it didn’t define “good-faith effort” and that there was no enforcement mechanism.

After the law took effect, some progress was made.

However, the 2018 report, shows it’s stalled in some cases and slipped in others.

This year’s report showed 58.92 percent of boards and commissions were gender balanced, an uptick of 0.28 percent from two years earlier.

The percentage of boards that were balanced had climbed from 49.53 percent in the center’s 2014 report to 58.64 percent in 2016.

Winfrey said achieving gender balance requires an effort that goes beyond just accepting the applications that county supervisors receive for positions. It requires recruiting, too.

Winfrey said researchers also have heard the application process isn’t always clear.

“More transparency with that would probably help a lot,” she said.

Researchers were able to collect data on 97 counties for this report.

A separate report will be issued for cities in a couple of weeks.

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