The number of women serving on Utah state boards and commissions has increased by 4.6% since 2016, a new study from Utah Valley University’s Utah Women and Leadership Project has found.
According to the study, 995 of 3,045 seats of 345 government boards are filled by women, meaning women hold 32.7% of the total seats. A 2016 study by the same organization found that 692 women, 28.1%, held seats on the 295 boards where member listings were available.
The biggest increases in women’s leadership occurred in the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, a jump from 8% to 21%; the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, 33% to 44%; the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, 18% to 30%; and the Utah Insurance Department, 15% to 33%.
Some divisions experienced decreases in the percentage of seats held by women, including the Utah State Treasurer, dropping from 20% to 6%; the Utah Department of Commerce, 13% to 8% and the Department of Technology Services, 27% to 13%.
A number of boards and commissions lost all female members between 2016 and 2019. The Utah Department of Human Resource Management dropped from 50% of seats held by women to zero, the Utah Department of Financial Institutions from 19% and the Public Service Commission from 10%.
Overall, the percentage of exclusively male boards and commissions has decreased from 28% in 2016 to 22.6% this year.
More than 17% of boards and commissions have a female-member majority, up 4.4% from three years ago. And 5.5% have an equal number of seats held by men and women, which is a 2.5% increase.
The study’s authors, UVU organizational leadership professor and director of the women’s leadership project Dr. Susan Madsen and graduate research assistant Megan Roper, note that women continue to have a strong presence on what are stereotypically viewed as “female-focused” boards, such as the Utah State Board of Nursing and the Certified Nurse Midwifery board.
Women have an increased presence on boards that focus on children and youth, such as the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice and the Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers with Special Needs.
“Developments in the last few years are genuinely encouraging, yet many state agencies still have little gender diversity on their boards,” Madsen and Roper wrote about their findings. “Meaningful, lasting change will only come in Utah as we move from an unconscious bias to conscious inclusiveness. And we still have much more work to do.”
The report includes a number of recommendations on how Utah can continue to improve female representation in state agencies and divisions.
First, Madsen and Roper suggest that agencies actively reach out to diverse candidates and encourage involvement by widely advertising open positions. Agencies should, additionally, incorporate unconscious bias training for the committees overseeing board appointments.
Next, they recommend that state legislators encourage female appointments and for Utahns to nominate women for open seats.
Finally, state government agencies “can curb the negative effects of conscious and unconscious bias by collecting, analyzing, and publishing data on board diversity.”
Madsen said that she is happy that there has been movement towards equal representation since the 2016 study was conducted.
“I was actually pleased (to see) that we (are) going in the right direction and had made some progress,” said Madsen. “We still need to do some more, but overall I was glad that there had been some progress made.”
As for what has contributed to the change, Madsen said that it is a combination of “conscious discussion” by agencies to include women and efforts by women’s leadership groups to increase female representation in state government.
“There’s more awareness that there are benefits when you have men and women working together,” the UVU professor said.
Graduate research assistant Susan Perkins and undergraduate intern Karen Deardeuff collected data for the 2019 report.