Tierrabyte: Gender Gap on City Boards Is 160 Seats Wide

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Members of the Planning Commission discuss a proposed short-term rental ordinance.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Members of the Planning Commission discuss a proposed short-term rental ordinance.

Men hold on average one-quarter more positions on City committees and boards than women do, a recent analysis by the Rivard Report shows.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) on Tuesday filed a Council Consideration Request (CCR), asking City Council to take a closer look at male and female representation on boards and commissions. She made her request less than one week after City Council confirmed Willis Mackey, a former school district superintendent, as the newest member of the CPS Energy board.

Before Council members voted 8-3 in favor of his appointment, they had a two-hour discussion about gender representation.

“We cannot afford to ask women to wait our turn,” Gonzales said in a press release. "It is time to adopt and implement a gender equity rule for board and commission appointments.”

This is not the first time Gonzales, who voted against Mackey's appointment along with Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), has sought a review of gender diversity on City boards. In 2016 she filed a similar request asking for City Council to consider a gender balance rule for boards and commissions, but the request did not receive enough support from her Council colleagues to be considered beyond one Governance Committee meeting in May 2017.

"That CCR didn't go anywhere," Gonzales said, "so I wanted to try it again because at this point we have a council that I think is more progressive."

Sofia Lopez, a Zoning Commission member representing District 1, feels that boards dominated by a single race or gender do not represent the city's demographics.

"We live in a diverse, multilingual, multiethnic, multicultural city. Is that reflected in those positions?" she asked.

On average, City-appointed boards and committees are 59.8 percent male, 35.5 percent female, and 4.7 percent vacant. Of a total of 798 filled seats, men currently hold 479 City-appointed seats, while women hold 319 – a 160-seat difference. The Rivard Report examined City-appointed board members, as they appear on the City of San Antonio's Boards and Commissions website.

“I think that there would be an unintended consequence of mandating that there be a certain level of females versus males," said Adriana Rocha Garcia, who sits on the Ethics Review Board. The Ethics Review Board reviews the City's ethics code every three years, and studies complaints filed against City Council members, among other responsibilities.

"An unintended consequence may be ... what if a male really is more qualified than a female in that position?" Garcia said. "You really can’t say that there should be a male in this position or a female. I think it should be based on qualifications."

Gonzales said that qualified women are out there, but more active recruitment is needed to find them. "If it means we have to look a little bit harder or recruit a little bit differently, then we just need to be willing to do that," she said.

"There's no question that there are qualified women available and willing to serve."

Of the 84 City boards and commissions, eight boards are exclusively male, and two boards are exclusively female. The two all-female boards include the Mayor's Commission on the Status of Women and the San Antonio Bike Share Board of Directors.

Bexar Metro 911, the CPS Energy Board, and the Fire and Police Pension Fund are among the eight boards solely made up of men.

"Given that perspective, it is a little surprising that there are boards that are all female or all male," said Efrain Torres Jr., who serves on the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee which has slightly more female than male members. Torres said he does not experience issues with gender representation on his board.

"When I walk into meetings, that’s not something that pops out to me. I’m very happy with the representation. I don’t see it as an issue. I think we’ve done a good job within this past year of filling in the vacancies."

Just one fully-occupied board has an equal number of male and female appointees: the Charter Review Commission, which studies issues of council pay, and proposes amendments to the City's charter. The Goal Setting Committee, which sets goals for small businesses in City contracts, also has an equal number of men (25 percent) and women (25 percent), but is 50 percent vacant.

Lauryn Farris, who reviewed hundreds of applications for the Mayor's new LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, wants the City to achieve more diverse gender representation on local committees and boards.

“I think it’s quite often unbalanced. Certainly in the past, there’s rarely been transgender representation [on boards and committees]," she said. "I would certainly hope that in light of the amount of publicity [the transgender community] is getting, that there would be more trans representation as we move forward."

The LGBTQ+ task force is expected to release its roster of new committee members next week, of which Farris said, "I felt like there was a good representation of transgender women."

Anyone can apply to a City board, commission, or committee. Appointments are made by district council members or the mayor ("district" appointments), or are recommended by a City Council committee ("at-large" appointments). Both types of appointments must be approved by City Council, as board terms typically coincide with their term limits. There are no limits to the number of boards a person can serve on, though Ethics Review Board appointees are limited to serving on one board.

Lopez described the representation gap as frustrating.

"We talk about ‘pink collar’ industries, and I think that’s unfair in a lot of ways," she said. "Obviously there’s capable and qualified women who could serve on those all-male boards, and capable and qualified men who could serve on those all-women boards.

“I don’t know how we can reconcile the demographics of our city with all-male representation on boards," Lopez said. "It just doesn’t make sense.”

 

Wendy Lane Cook contributed to this report.

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