Gender balance research marks first step in long-term project

This fall, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics has continued to collect data on the composition of Iowa’s appointed boards and commissions as a part of its Gender Balance Project. The information gathered and analyzed by the center serves as the first benchmark in a multi-year research endeavor.

Every two years, the center will collect data to track changes in how Iowa’s gender balance policy is implemented over time throughout the state. The next wave of the study is scheduled to begin in summer 2015.

The Gender Balance Project is a research initiative that began in the summer of 2012 as a partnership between the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW) and Catt Center. The purpose of the project is to track the implementation of the state’s gender balance requirements for county and municipal boards and commissions, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Iowa has required gender balance on state-level boards and commissions since 1987.

“This project provides valuable information that can help us understand the extent to which Iowa’s recent expansion of its gender balance requirements to appointed county and municipal boards has been achieved,” said Valerie Hennings, scholar-in-residence at the Catt Center, who directs the project. “We are pleased with the success of our efforts in assembling such a comprehensive dataset and will continue analyzing this first wave of information throughout the year.”

Valerie Hennings

Valerie Hennings

To support the project, the Friends of the ICSW provide funding for the Catt Center to hire a student research assistant to assist with data collection. Since 2012, the Friends have provided $6,000 to support student internships associated with the project.

At the county level, the project examines gender balance in each of Iowa’s 99 counties on the following seven boards and commissions: adjustment, compensation, conservation, health, planning and zoning, review, and veteran affairs. Currently, data has been received from 98 counties and shows that:

  • Two counties have achieved gender balance on the seven boards and commissions examined.
  • 78 percent of health boards are gender balanced, making it the board type most likely to be balanced.
  • Compensation boards are the least likely to be gender balanced – only 32 percent are balanced by gender.
  • Women hold 28.73 percent of county boards and commission seats.
  • 49.68 percent of all reported county boards and commissions are gender balanced.
  • Women hold 18.54 percent of all chair positions and 29.82 percent of all vice chair positions.

At the municipal level, the project looks at the gender balance of the following nine boards and commissions in each of the state’s county seats and 200 most populous cities: Airport Board, Civil Service Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Housing Services Board, Human Rights Commission, Library Board of Trustees, Planning and Zoning Commission, Water Works Board of Trustees and Zoning Board of Adjustment. To date, the center has received responses from 204 of 207 municipalities surveyed. Two cities have declined to participate in the study. The data compiled from the 202 cities that participated shows that:

  • 17 cities have achieved gender balance on the nine boards and commissions examined.
  • Women hold 37.15 percent of city boards and commissions seats.
  • Of all city boards and commissions reported, 49.13 percent are gender balanced.
  • Women hold 27.83 percent of all chair positions and 41.01 percent of all vice chair positions.
  • 73 percent of Library Boards of Trustees are gender balanced, making it the most commonly balanced board type.
  • Airport boards are the least likely board type to be balanced by gender – 17 percent of these boards are gender balanced.

The information collected as a part of the Gender Balance Project is free and available to the public online. To learn more, please visit the Catt Center's research page.