November Newsletter for the Utah Women & Leadership Project at Utah State University.
The Status of Women on Utah State Boards and Commissions: A 2023 Update
Research indicates organizations are poised for greater success when both men and women occupy leadership positions. Gender inclusivity yields advantages not only for businesses but also for a variety of entities, including churches, state legislatures, city councils, state governments, and state and local boards and commissions.
In 2023, 38.8% of Utah state boards and commissions were held by women, an increase of 6.1% in 2019. Of the 416 boards and commissions analyzed, 50 have no female appointees, 26 have equal representation of men and women, 99 have a female-member majority, and 189 have a male majority. While women continue to have a strong presence on stereotypically “female-focused” boards (e.g., Board of Nursing, Certified Nurse Midwife Board), women are also increasingly a majority on child- and youth-centric boards (Utah Board of Juvenile Justice and Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers). Men in Utah continue to have a predominant presence on boards in the fields of business, finance, natural resources, housing, and technology. However, some agencies or divisions are being intentional on representation and are making the needed changes.
Substantial increases include the State Treasurer’s Office, Governor’s Office, Attorney General, Tax Commission, Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget, Environmental Quality, Government Operations Lt. Governor’s Office, Workforce Services, Public Safety, Administrative Office of The Courts, and the Natural Resources. It is important to note that some agency directors have little influence over boards listed under them as they are mandated by Code.
The following five recommendations can lead to positive change in board and commission composition, which will benefit Utah and its residents:
First, state agencies and divisions remain integral to supporting gender diversity. They are responsible for evaluating statutory requirements for the various state boards and commissions in terms of gender diversity and can review and recommend changes to membership requirements that may no longer be necessary or applicable. They can also implement recruiting solutions so that greater numbers of qualified women will become aware of opportunities. Other states have found that being more strategic with their recruitment by widely advertising open positions and actively reaching out to diverse candidates has helped them find highly qualified women to accept seats on all boards and commissions.
Second, states with legislation encouraging female appointments have a 10% higher rate of women on boards than those without such legislation. The state of Iowa has had gender-balanced state board legislation since 2012, and 63% of all boards have achieved equal female representation.
Third, Utah and its agencies and divisions can incorporate quality unconscious bias training for individuals and committees that oversee board appointments. Training those involved in the process can assist them in being more effective recruiters and nominators.
Fourth, more Utah women can apply for board and commission openings, and more Utahns can nominate women for open seats. If qualified women are not found within the applicant pools, it is difficult for Utah leaders to appoint them to such roles. Currently, many seats remain vacant.
Fifth, state government agencies and divisions should collect, analyze, and publish data on board diversity. These entities and the state can be more transparent in all elements of the process, including publishing a complete list of the names of individuals serving on these boards and commissions. Other states have appointed diversity compliance representatives and created diverse commissions by statute to oversee the process. Exploring ways that appointing officials can keep diversity at a strategic and conscious level when deciding whom to appoint can also be helpful. Requiring existing board members to recommend both men and women (including people of color) for open seats will ensure the Governor has options when making decisions. Overall, utilizing the best practices of states and agencies nationwide can provide innovative ideas for proactive, strategic, and inclusive Utah leaders.
To continue increasing women’s representation in positions of influence within Utah, it is vital to understand the status of women in various contexts, and this includes Utah’s state boards and commissions. Developments in the last several years are genuinely encouraging, yet some state agencies still have little gender diversity on their boards, and numerous areas show no female representation. Combined with the recognition that a substantial number of women currently serve on boards with high levels of traditional gender segregation, this means that we are missing many of the benefits that come when men and women work and serve together. Meaningful, lasting change will only come in Utah as we move toward conscious inclusiveness. And we still have much more work to do.
To learn more about female representation on Utah boards and commissions, read the full brief.