SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly a third of positions on Utah state boards and commissions are held by women in 2019, a 4.6% increase since 2016.
With a few exceptions, men outnumber women on the vast majority of state-level boards in Utah, according to a new report by the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah Valley University.
Of the 345 boards and commissions analyzed, nearly 23% have no female appointees, down from 28% in 2016. Nineteen boards have equal numbers of men and women, an increase of 2.5%, and 60 have a female-member majority, an increase of 4.4%, according to the report.
The report — authored by Susan Madsen, Orin R. Woodbury professor of Leadership and Ethics in UVU’s Woodbury School of Business, and graduate assistant Megan Roper — said developments of the last few years “are genuinely encouraging.”
However, many state agencies have little gender diversity on their boards, some with none, notes the report, “The Status of Women on Utah State Boards & Commissions: A 2019 Update.”
“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,” the report states.
“Meaningful, lasting change will only come in Utah as we move from unconscious bias to conscious inclusiveness. And we still have much more work to do.”
The report found that women continue to have a strong presence on stereotypically “female-focused” boards, such as the Board of Nursing or Certified Nurse Midwife Board.
In a breakdown of state boards by agency, women fill 55% percent of the seats under the state Department of Health and the Department of Heritage and Arts, up from 45% and 40% in 2016, respectively.
Women hold 60% percent of the seats on the Utah State Board of Education, but members of that body are elected.
Increasingly, women are a majority on child and youth-centric boards, while men continue to have a predominant presence on boards in the fields of business, finance, natural resources, housing and technology.
State government agencies with the lowest ratio of women on boards and commissions are the Public Service Commission, financial institutions, the National Guard, state treasurer, commerce, the governor’s office, public safety, and technology services.
Madsen said she’s pleased the state is making progress but “we still have work to do. ... My hope is that there’ll be some interest in following through some of the recommendations at the state level,” she said.
The report’s five recommendations include:
- State agencies and divisions should commit to supporting gender diversity through strategic recruitment of candidates so more qualified women are aware of opportunities.
- States should consider legislation that encourages female appointments. States that have such laws have a 10% higher rate of women on boards than those without.
- Training to overcome unconscious bias can be incorporated for individuals and committees that oversee board appointments.
- More women can be urged to apply for openings and more Utahns can nominate women for open seats.
- State agencies and divisions can overcome conscious and unconscious bias by collecting, analyzing, and publishing data on board diversity.
The report notes that there are at least 213 open seats on state government boards, many of which are public appointments.
“Developments in the last few years are genuinely encouraging, yet many state agencies still have little gender diversity on their boards. ... This means that we are missing many of the benefits that come when men and women work and serve together,” Madsen said.
Madsen said the “business case” for more diverse boards, including gender diversity, has been long established in economic research. Greater diversity on government boards and commissions would yield likely benefits, she said.
A large study of 2,360 companies conducted by the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26% worldwide, according to a Bloomberg article published in 2012.
“Research shows that organizations will increasingly thrive when both men and women hold leadership roles. Gender inclusivity benefits not only businesses, but also entities such as churches, state legislatures, city councils, state governments and state and local boards and commissions. Studies have shown that there are numerous benefits to attracting, retaining, promoting, and empowering women within organizations and entities,” the new UVU report states.