KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A recent study shows women are underrepresented on many civic boards and commissions in Kansas.
The new research was just released by the Institute for Leadership Studies at the University of Kansas, in partnership with United WE.
Researchers gathered data from 164 towns and cities across the state.
They focused on five types of boards or commissions people are appointed to in order to serve. Those are library, housing authority, parks and recreation, zoning and planning boards.
Researchers found women were equally represented on only two of the five boards — library and housing.
For parks and recreation, women made up 38 percent of the appointees, 25 percent for zoning boards and 24 percent for planning boards.
The researchers said these numbers show there's work to be done to make sure women's voices are being heard in civic settings.
One of the groups involved in that study, United WE, started doing that work in Kansas City in 2014, calling it the Appointments Project.
"It was just really a concept at that point, we weren't sure which direction it would really take," United WE CEO, Wendy Doyle said.
Nearly 10 years later, Doyle is seeing the progress made through the Appointments Project.
"When we started the initiative in Kansas City, the gender parity was at 25 percent of boards and commissions," Doyle said. "As we moved through our initiative at that point, former Mayor Sly James, when he turned out, we were at 43 percent. Mayor Lucas has picked up that point and really moved the needle even further."
Currently, women's representation on Kansas City Boards and Commissions is more than 51 percent.
"We're really just so pleased with getting women at the policy-making table," Doyle said.
Those women include Emily Cramer, who serves on two committee boards in Roeland Park: community engagement and racial equity.
"I want to help the local community," Cramer said. "I think when I was looking at all the vacant boards and commissions; there was a few at the county and the state level that I felt really passionate about doing this work in Roeland Park. Because it’s a small, tight-knit community and just being able to have a say in all of that was really important to me."
Cramer received a toolkit through United WE's Appointments Project to help her navigate the committee process.
"It’ll walk you through step by step, here’s how you apply. They send you a link to all boards at each level," Cramer said. "I didn’t know there were all these opportunities for women until I got involved with the Appointments Project and they just make it so easy."
According to United WE, the Appointments Project secured spots for more than 170 women to serve in city, county and state civic leadership positions.
"And we know based on our research, when we have diverse opinions, perspectives around the decision-making table is when we make the best decision making for everyone and we all win," Doyle said.
Because of its success in Kansas City, the program is now expanding to other cities like St. Louis; Richmond, Virginia and Austin, Texas.
Here are a few solutions, United WE found to bring more women onto civic boards and commissions:
- Increase women's confidence in applying for the positions
- Ask women to serve
- Train commissions and board leaders in efficient and effective meeting strategies
- Be inclusive of women's voices
For a more detailed look at resources, click visit the United WE website.