Gender Balance Project

The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics has been examining the membership of appointed county and municipal boards and commissions in Iowa.

Since 1987, gender balance has been required by law on Iowa’s state-level boards and commissions. In 2009, the Iowa Legislature extended this requirement to counties and cities effective Jan. 1, 2012. This research – titled the Gender Balance Project – aims to understand the extent to which gender balance has been achieved on county and city boards in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Data were collected first in 2012-2013, and then again in 2015-2016, 2017-2018 and 2019-2020.

Data from Iowa’s counties was collected in fall 2019 and spring 2020, and 83 of 99 counties chose to participate. This data, which includes key details about seven appointed boards and commissions, shows that:

  • Fourteen counties have achieved gender balance on the seven boards and commissions examined. Those counties are Allamakee, Clayton, Dallas, Floyd, Guthrie, Hardin, Harrison, Lee, Madison, Ringgold, Story, Van Buren, Wapello and Winneshiek.
  • Women hold 33.27% of county boards and commission seats.
  • 67.60% of all reported county boards and commissions are gender balanced.
  • Women hold 25.81% of all chair positions.

The 2020 report shows significant gains in the percent of gender balanced boards, which was 58.92% in 2018 and increased to 67.60% in 2020. Gains in the percent of seats held by women increased only slightly from 32.21% in 208 to 33.27% in 2020.

The Gender Balance Project also encompasses municipal boards and commissions in Iowa’s 200 most populous cities and 99 county seats, and 186 of 211 cities provided data for the report. Data is collected for nine municipal boards and commissions. The 2020 report shows that:

  • 33 cities have achieved gender balance on the nine boards and commissions examined.
  • Women hold 40.82% of city board and commission seats.
  • 68.99% of all reported city boards and commissions are gender balanced.
  • Women hold 30.39% of all chair positions.

Unfortunately, the percent of seats held by women decreased slightly from 41.13% in 2018 to 40.82% in 2020. However, gains were made in the percent of gender balanced boards, which increased from 63% in 2028 to 68.99% in 2020.

Arin Johnson, a sophomore in criminal justice studies, and Isabella Rojas, a senior in political science, collected the gender balance data under the direction of Kelly Winfrey, assistant professor with the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication and coordinator of research and outreach for the Catt Center. The most recently published results of the Gender Balance Project for county boards (PDF) and municipal boards (PDF) can be found on the Catt Center’s website, as well as a list of states with gender balance legislation (PDF). You can also read research surrounding gender balance legislation.

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