How the Gender Balance Project Is Increasing Transparency on Public Boards

by Jennifer L. Crull

Currently there are only eight states in the United States that require gender balance for their state-level boards and commissions. But of those eight states, Iowa is the only state that requires gender balance at both the county and city level with boards and commissions.[1] While this law has no penalties for not complying, the Gender Balance Project shines the transparency spotlight on the counties and cities and allows Iowans to help counties and municipalities achieve gender balance in this area.

Gender balance at the state level in Iowa was passed in 1987. The other states that also have laws concerning gender balance are Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Utah.[2] In 2009 the state of Iowa extended the gender balance requirement to boards and commissions at the county and city level starting January 1, 2012.[3] The goal of the Gender Balance Project is “to track compliance at both the county and municipal level.”[4]

The Gender Balance Project is a partnership between the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and the Friends of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women (ICSW).[5] This project is under the direction of Valerie Henning, Scholar-in-Residence at the Catt Center. Morgan Todd, a senior at Iowa State University in political science, is heading up the collection of data concerning this project.[6]

This project has taken a look at seven county boards and commissions for the county analysis. Those seven boards are Adjustment, Compensation, Conservation, Health, Planning and Zoning, Review, and Veteran Affairs. The tables included in this newsletter show how each county is implementing gender balance on its boards.[7]

When looking at the county data, it is great to note that four counties have achieved gender balance. They are Johnson, Scott, Van Buren, and Wright.[8] It is important to note that from Johnson County to Van Buren County we have a very large and very small county achieving gender balance. Additionally, the data shows that women “hold 28.77 percent of county board and commission seats.”[9] Women also “hold 18.52 percent of all chair positions.”[10]

This project also includes the municipal governments. It involves the “200 most populous cities and the 99 county seats.”[11] For the city data there were nine boards and commissions included in this part of the project. They are the 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.[12]

Interestingly, at the municipal level women “hold 37.15 percent of city board and commissions seats” as well as “27.86 percent of all chair positions.”[13] It is important to note as you review the data that small towns such as Nashua and large municipalities such as West Des Moines have been able to achieve gender balance.

If you would like to take the time to review the data for your county or city, you can access all of it on the Website of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics ( If you want to see your county or city more gender balanced then help find qualified people to volunteer. In Iowa we are great at volunteering, but it is also important to give our time to our boards and commissions at the state, county, and city level. These boards have the most direct impact on your life and your neighbors.

Transparency in all aspects of government helps to encourage more active participation in the governmental process. A project like the “Gender Balance Project” is great at bringing transparency to the issue of how counties and cities are doing with gender balance in their boards and commissions. So remember that in order to see things change you have to be part of the solution. Visit with your County Board of Supervisors or city Mayors and let them know you would be willing to serve.

[1] “States with Gender Balance Laws,” Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University, 2013, <> accessed on March 14, 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Gender Balance Project,” Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University, <> accessed on March 14, 2014.
[4] Valerie M. Henning, Dianne Bystrom, and Angie Hunt, “ISU’s Catt Center releases new report on municipal gender balance,” Iowa State University News Service, May 29, 2013, <> accessed on March 14, 2014.
[5] “Gender Balance Project.”
[6] Ibid.
[7] “Gender Balance Project: County Boards – February 2014 Data Summary,” Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University, <> accessed on March 14, 2014.
[8] Ibid.
[9] “Gender Balance Project.”
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “Gender Balance Project: Municipal Boards – December 2013 Data Summary,” Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University, < > accessed on March 14, 2014.
[13] “Gender Balance Project.”

Jennifer L. Crull is an IT Specialist with Public Interest Institute.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is published by Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, research and educational institute whose activities are supported by contributions from private individuals, corporations, companies, and foundations. The Institute does not accept government grants.

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