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Campus News

Women’s Share of Executive Appointments Drops

by Lisa James Goldsberry

UAlbany’s Center for Women in Government & Civil Society earned worldwide media attention in February with its findings that women lost ground in the number appointed to policy-making positions in state governments. The story was carried by The Guardian Unlimited of London, by USA Today, the Baltimore Sun, ABC News, The Boston Globe, and The Miami Herald, after coverage by the Associated Press news service.

Women’s progress as holders of top-ranking appointee positions in state governments dropped almost three percentage points over the last two years, but remained above the 1999 level, according to Appointed Policy Makers in State Government, Five-Year Trend Analysis, a report released February 19 by UAlbany’s Center for Women in Government & Civil Society. Women held 35 percent of policy leader posts in 2001, 32 percent in 2003.

Massachusetts and Oregon ranked highest for the percentage of women in government policy leader posts, and New Hampshire ranked lowest.

The report indicates that, even as the 2000 census recorded substantial changes in the race and ethnicity composition of the U.S. population, the demographics of executive branch policy leaders changed very little between 1999 and 2003. The exception was African American women, who advanced substantially in the number of policy leadership positions to which they were appointed by U.S. governors.

African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians continue to hold few top adviser staff positions in governors’ offices. For African-American staff appointees, the percentage is 6.9; for Latino/a appointees, 2.6; for Asian Americans, 1.5; and for American Indians, 0.4. On the other hand, the percentage of department head posts held by white women, African-American women, and Asian-American women rose slightly.

In nine states (Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota), women hold fewer than half the top policy posts to which they would be appointed, if the proportion of women appointees were equal to the proportion of women in the population of those states.

“A net gain for women of 2.2 percentage points over a five-year period is certainly a very slow rate of advancement,” said Judith Saidel, executive director of the Center and the study’s project director. “Furthermore, the fact that only five of the 50 states are even close to parity in terms of women’s appointment to leadership positions is a less than commendable record established by the nation’s governors.”

Original data on policy leaders appointed by current governors were collected from the states via a mailed survey and follow-up phone calls as needed between June and November 2003. For the purpose of the study, “policy leaders” include department heads (heads of departments, agencies, offices, boards, commissions, and authorities) and top advisers in governors’ offices (titles such as chief of staff, government liaison, legal adviser, press secretary).

Saidel said, “The media response generated by the Center’s report demonstrates the continued saliency in the American democratic system of representativeness and inclusion issues. Stories about the findings ran in newspapers, on radio and television stations, online news services across the country, and on international wire services. Clearly research about who is and who is not participating in critical policy decision-making remains newsworthy.”

For copies of the report and for more information about the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, visit the Center’s web site at