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Gender equality lacking in state leadership teams

Hillary Clinton promised this week that if she's elected president, half of her advisory cabinet would be female. "I would have a cabinet that looks like America," she told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow during a town hall event, "and 50 percent of America is women."

Actually, it's closer to 51 percent, but who's counting? It's still a laudable goal for a national leader, especially given that the current president's cabinet is only 25 percent female (30 percent if you include cabinet-rank positions). Now if only we could get our country's state leadership to follow suit.

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There are only six female governors in America (12 percent), which you can blame the electorate for, but the state heads themselves should take responsibility for the less-than-representative makeup of most of their cabinets and executive councils. Nationwide, 29 percent of those appointed to such senior management teams are female, according to an analysis of 835 staff members identified as key in 42 states. (Florida and Iowa elect their cabinets, so I didn't include them; nor did I include elected lieutenant governors among the staff. Meanwhile, media representatives from Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Vermont ignored my request for a list of cabinet names — or, in Oregon's case, missed my deadline and those states don't readily make the information available online.)

Women appear to do the best in California, where 45 percent of the cabinet is female. On the other end is Kentucky, with one in 13 (8 percent) of the top staff and secretary appointments going to women, according to a newspaper story that listed the public officials.

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Female governors have a slightly better track record in making gender-balanced appointments than their male counterparts. Cabinet information was available for four of the six women-led administrations (New Mexico, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Oklahoma and they average 33 percent female — compared to the 28 percent average for the cabinets of 38 male governors.

Democratic governors are also on top, averaging 33 percent female cabinets compared with the Republicans' 26 percent. (Alaska's independent governor, Bill Walker, has a 33 percent female cabinet, five out of 15 positions.)

Here in Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's executive council is below the average, with five of 23 positions filled by women, or 22 percent, and some of the jobs they hold are pretty typical: secretaries of aging and disabilities.

Women are often appointed to lead the social services agencies and education departments, though Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder breaks the mold with female heads of both corrections and state police (he also has a 29 percent female cabinet). When it comes to ethnic diversity, his cabinet, like most others I could identify, is overwhelmingly white, however. Of the 20 members, 19 are white, and one man is Hispanic, according to a list provided by Mr. Snyder's communications director; that fails to reflect Michigan's black residents, who make up 14 percent of that state's population.

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And in Maryland, black people make up 29 percent of the population, but only 9 percent of Governor Hogan's appointed executive council members. (Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford is also African-American.) Mr. Hogan should do better. A government advisory team should reflect its population as closely as possible to ensure constituent voices, opinions and experiences are being accurately represented in decisions involving the public good. The cabinet of Hawaii Gov. David Ige, for example, is roughly two thirds Pacific Islander to match the state's population, according to spokespeople. In the business world, gender diverse companies outperform competitors by 15 percent, according to a report last year by management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, while those with ethnic diversity outperform others by 35 percent.

On primary day this week, Donna Edwards, a black woman, bemoaned Democratic voters' choice of Chris Van Hollen, a white male, as the party's nominee for U.S. Senate over her.

"To my Democratic Party, let me say today Maryland is on the verge of having an all-male delegation in a so-called progressive state," Ms. Edwards said. "When will the voices of people of color; when will the voices of women; when will the voice of labor; when will the voices of black women; when will our voices be effective, legitimate, equal leaders in a big-tent party?"

While Mr. Van Hollen is a capable and qualified choice (The Sun's editorial board, of which I'm a part, endorsed him), she has a point. We as voters must consider diversity in our governing bodies when we vote, and those we elect must go even further, making a conscious effort to assemble leadership teams that reflect the people they're leading.

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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