In 36 states, there will be an election in November for governor. In these states, the winning candidate has the opportunity to make appointments to important and influential state boards and commissions. It is imperative that the elected governor use his or her power to review these appointments for gender balance. I urge the candidates to pledge to appoint an equal number of women and men so that gradually the number of women in these positions will rise.
Look at the progress in Rhode Island. Four years ago, 15 percent of the state's committee and board members were women. By 2012, 34 percent of the members were women, according to the Rhode Island Government Appointments Project (RI-GAP). This marked transformation occurred because Gov. Lincoln Chafee followed up on a 2010 campaign pledge. His efforts were monitored by RI-GAP , a non-partisan effort led by Vision 2020 Delegates Marcia Coné, founding Executive Director of the Women's Fund of Rhode Island, and Susan Colantuono, Founder and CEO of Leading Women.
Now with Gov. Chafee declining to seek reelection, the spotlight will be on Rhode Island to seek if the next governor will continue the momentum of making gender-balanced appointments.
Why is gender balance important?
It is critical that these board compositions reflect the state demographics. Recognizing the need to represent all citizens affirms our country's democratic foundation. Also, to promote women in senior leadership, which is a Vision 2020 goal, women benefit from experiences that broaden their policy knowledge and experience. For many women, the pathway to elected office starts with an appointed position. And having women in visible leadership positions inspires other women to engage in the political process.
Of course, the actions of the 14 Governors not facing an election in 2014 also can be scrutinized for the number of women appointments.
I encourage women - and men - who want to see shared leadership to take on this assignment: urge current Governors and gubernatorial candidates to pledge to make women at least 50 percent of their appointments to state boards and commissions.