Empowering Women: A Look at Utah’s Boards and Commissions in 2023
Research shows that gender inclusivity benefits all organizations, including businesses, communities, churches, and federal, state, and local governments.
A closer look reveals trends and efforts in specific organizations in Utah. The Utah State University Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) published research and policy briefs in 2016 and 2019 analyzing the gender composition of Utah state boards and commissions. The report provided data about individuals, groups, organizations, and communities working toward improving equality and the status of girls and women throughout the state. A 2023 update was produced comparing women's current status on Utah state boards and commissions to the research conducted in 2016 and 2019.
"It is important to compare the data to get a clear understanding of the progress being made," said Susan Madsen, UWLP founding director and one of three report authors.
She said to collect data, they partnered closely with Utah Governor Spencer Cox's Office of Boards and Commissions and mined through the Utah State Boards and Commissions website, searched on specific board websites, and contacted board representatives.
Data show that 425 Utah state boards and commissions are currently housed in the government database. The 2023 research brief shows data from 416 boards and commissions (information from nine was not available), which have 3,215 members, with 1,966 (61.2%) men and 1,249 (38.8%) women currently serving.
Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 4.6% increase in women's seats, from 28.1% to 32.7%. A 6.1% increase was shown from 2019 to 2023, with 38.8% of seats held by women.
"We are pleased to see these increases, but we know there is still work to do," said Natasha Birchard, UWLP research associate and a report author. "The need is great for the government to reflect gender diversity accurately within its constituencies."
Madsen said five recommendations were given to positively change board and commission composition, which will benefit Utah and its residents.
First, state agencies and divisions must be integral in supporting gender diversity. They can also implement recruiting solutions so that more qualified women will become aware of opportunities.
Second, states with legislation encouraging female appointments have a 10% higher rate of women on boards than those states without, showing the need for this type of legislation.
Third, the state of 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 can collect, analyze, and publish data on board diversity. These entities can be more transparent in all elements of the process, including posting a complete list of the names of individuals serving on these boards and commissions.
"Developments in the last several years are encouraging, yet some state agencies still have little gender diversity on their boards, and numerous areas show no female representation," said Madsen. "Combined with the recognition that a substantial number of women currently serve on boards with high levels of traditional gender segregation, 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."
An additional report author is Brooke Scheffler, director of Boards and Commissions, Utah State Government.