New data show a major gender gap in local government leadership
Fewer than one in three top appointed local officials are women, according to the analysis. Curious how your state stacks up? Tools released with the research allow users to look at trends and comparisons across the country.
The share of top appointed local government leadership positions that women hold across the U.S. has climbed in recent years. But there's still a major gender gap and if the rise of women in these jobs continues at its current pace, it'll be another quarter century before they're on equal footing with their male counterparts.
Those are some of the findings in a new analysis from the professional association Engaging Local Government Leaders and nonprofit research group CivicPulse. The groups are calling their research, which provides insights into gender disparities in local government leadership between places and over time, first of its kind.
"Historically, the United States has lacked centralized information on the hundreds of thousands of individuals leading our township, municipal, and county governments," Nathan Lee, a public policy professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and managing director of CivicPulse, said in a statement.
"With state-of-the-art data analysis tools, however, we can make this important information available," he added.
Findings from the data show that, as of this year, among 9,505 local governments across the U.S. that have 1,000 or more residents and a top appointed official, only 29%—or less than one in three—of those officials are women. In contrast, the report noted that women now make up nearly half of the nation's overall workforce.
The percentage of women holding the leadership jobs has risen steadily between 2013 and this year, from 22% to 29%. But the researchers point out: "At that rate of change, we will not reach gender parity among local government leaders until 2048."
Another trend that surfaced in the data is that smaller localities are more apt to have women in top appointed leadership roles.
Also, in some states, the composition of female and male local government leaders was less lopsided. For instance, in Alabama, 57% of the 109 local governments the researchers looked at had women in the top jobs. In Idaho the same was true for 48% of 33 localities and in West Virginia 47% of 73.
The research is featured as part of a "Local Government Diversity Dashboard" project from ELGL and CivicPulse, which aims to provide ways to track, benchmark and visualize data related to local government workforce diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
“With this new tool we can finally provide the data to accelerate and track if local government leadership is representative of the communities they serve,” Kirsten Wyatt, ELGL's executive director, said in a statement.
The dashboard offers interactive online tools to look at the newly released gender data, including a map showing how states compare, a lookup option where people can search for specific communities and charts showing changes with women in leadership roles over time.
The project relied on information from a database of senior local government officials maintained by Power Almanac, a which is part of Route Fifty's parent company GovExec. ELGL says it's working to expand the project to include top elected officials, as well as the heads of law enforcement and public works departments.
To be considered a top appointed official, the report explains, a person had to be appointed by an elected governing body and must be responsible for running daily operations of the local government. Common titles for these posts include "manager" or "administrator."
The researchers said they used "probabilistic name-based gender coding" to decipher who in their sample of officials was a man or a woman, assigning male or female designations if the odds were greater than 97% that a name is associated with a specific gender. They acknowledged there are limitations with this method, while also adding that they "recognize that gender is a spectrum."
Users can look up individual records in the data and submit requests to change information that they believe is coded incorrectly.
More information on the project can be found here.
Bill Lucia is executive editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.
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