City of Lawrence working to increase number of women on city advisory boards
photo by: Mike Yoder
The City of Lawrence has begun working with a foundation to get more women involved in the advisory boards that help inform city decision-making.
About 40 boards provide the city recommendations or oversight on a broad range of topics, including affordable housing, public transit, fair policing, economic incentives and the arts. The results of a voluntary diversity survey conducted by the city indicate that only 39 percent of respondents said they were women.
The Lawrence City Commission approves at-large appointments to city advisory boards, and Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said efforts to diversify board membership were overdue.
“I’m really delighted that this project is occurring,” Ananda said. “I think it’s long overdue and I honestly think it’s probably one of the minimal things that we can do in order to enact the change we want to see in our community.”
Following local elections in November 2017, women now hold a historic majority on all three Lawrence governing bodies: the City Commission, the Douglas County Commission and the Lawrence school board.
Last fall, the City Commission adopted standard policies and procedures for city advisory boards, which include a goal to have board members reflect the race, gender, income and other demographics of the city as a whole. The city has since begun working with the Appointments Project, which aims to increase diversity on public boards.
The Appointments Project is a program created by the Women’s Foundation to increase the number of women serving on civic boards and commissions. Women’s Foundation President and CEO Wendy Doyle said the project does public outreach, provides training about serving on civic boards and helps women apply to boards that match their specific qualifications or experience.
“Through this process we educate, we encourage,” Doyle said. “We are a safe place for women to ask questions about what it may mean to serve on a specific board or commission.”
On the voluntary survey, not all income groups were proportionally represented. According to the survey, 37 percent of respondents indicated they earned more than $100,000. The city’s median income is $48,000, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Minority groups also were not proportionally represented in the survey. The percentages of respondents who indicated they are black, Hispanic or Asian are slightly below the census numbers for the city at large. Black, Hispanic and Asian respondents made up 2.4 percent, 4.7 percent and 0 percent, respectively, of board membership. Black, Hispanic and Asian people make up 4.3 percent, 6.6 percent and 5.5 percent of Lawrence’s population, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Doyle said that through outreach, the project also works to encourage women of diverse backgrounds, geography and age to apply to openings as they become available. She said the city notifies the project of openings and criteria, and the project communicates that information to women who have expressed interest in serving and who meet the qualifications.
Regarding some of the other demographic disparities, Ananda said that the city wanted to look at broadening representation of all demographics on city boards and that she saw the effort as an ongoing conversation.
“I think it’s important for our advisory boards to reflect our community because they speak for our community,” Ananda said. “And if our entire community isn’t represented, then we are not hearing from the entire community.”
In a news release, Mayor Stuart Boley said that the city was excited to collaborate with the Appointments Project to help encourage more women to pursue leadership roles in Lawrence.
“Lawrence’s rich diversity is one of our city’s greatest strengths, and by teaming up with the Appointments Project we’ll make sure gender diversity is reflected on our local boards and commissions,” Boley said in the release.
Lawrence is one of about two dozen cities or governments in Kansas and Missouri that the Appointments Project coordinates with, according to its website. Other locations include Johnson County, Olathe, Topeka and the Unified Government of Wyandotte and Kansas City. The Appointments Project will hold an information session in Lawrence on Nov. 8 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.
More broadly, Doyle said Kansas needed more women making policy and that as more women became engaged in civic life, the hope is it will also have a secondary effect on the demographics of leadership.
“We hope that women may, through this process, really get excited about civic engagement and they may want to go on and run for elected office,” Doyle said. “We really see the Appointments Project as building up the pipeline for future civic leaders.”