Women are underrepresented in state boards and commissions. These groups – comprised of experts, citizens and officials – guide state policy, make regulations and protect Alaskans in areas, from hairdressing to the Permanent Fund.
This past summer, KTOO collected data on Alaska’s 134 boards and commissions to which the governor makes appointments. Only a third of the members are women.
The majority of current board members were appointed during Sean Parnell’s administration. A few currently serving members were appointed as far back as Jay Hammond’s and Bill Sheffield’s administrations in the ’80s. So far into his tenure, current Gov. Bill Walker has appointed 104 people to the state’s boards and commission, of which 34 have been women.
There are some public officials who serve on multiple boards, including Walker. Taking this into account, more than half of Alaska’s boards are still overwhelmingly occupied by men.
Boards that were run by majority women and featured no men were under departments that focus on social and community development. Some of these entities were the Board of Professional Counselors, Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives, and Governor’s Council on Disabilities and the Advisory Council on Libraries.
Despite this, nearly a third of the boards had fairly equal members, like the Alaska Judicial Council, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Of the 12 departments these boards fall under, Health and Social Services had the most gender balanced membership.
In early July, Walker established and appointed people to the five-member Marijuana Control Board. Although 38 of the 131 applicants were women, none were chosen.
Here’s a closer look at the state’s new Marijuana Control Board, formed in July, which has no women.
Kim Kole is a 41-year-old mother and high school science teacher in Anchorage. Last year, she was also the face of a parent coalition campaigning for regulating marijuana like alcohol. Literally, her face was on campaign posters, newspaper ads, the web, coupon mailers.
“There definitely was a little bit of backlash,” Kole said.
Kole said she and her school district received emails and complaints calling on her to resign as a teacher. But she received more support than negativity.
“I actually had random people stop me in cars and say, ‘Hey, that was really brave of you. I’m glad that you’re doing that. Thank you.’ That was actually really, really cool to get that kind of response. And the nasty-grams and nasty emails that I got from random people that I didn’t know, it’s going to happen. You can’t please everybody.”
After the initiative passed, Kole became a board member of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation and the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association. She’s also the Alaska chapter chair of Women Grow and organizes monthly events where people learn about various aspects of the industry from experts and professionals.
“The idea is basically to encourage women to be part of the cannabis industry because we want it to be the first industry where women really have an equal footing. In any other industry that hasn’t been the case,” Kole said.
The hope for gender equality within the industry doesn’t hold up for the board responsible for regulating the industry or deciding who gets a license. Walker appointed five men to the Marijuana Control Board.
That’s despite the fact that almost a third of the 131 applicants were women, and seven of them were interviewed.
Kole was one of them. Her interview lasted about an hour and she left feeling good about it. She says she applied for the board to offer a unique voice.
“Coming as somebody who’s a little bit younger, who comes from a different demographic, who has children, who works with children, it’s definitely just a different perspective and a different lens to look at this whole industry,” Kole said.
Loren Jones, a Marijuana Control Board member, said it’s valuable to have both genders represented in a board.
“When you’re talking about an issue as complex as marijuana going from illegal to legal with controls, and issues about minors and schools and daycare and that kind of thing, then I think women would bring a much different perspective oftentimes to those kinds of discussions,” Jones said.
The initial board had to include two members from the marijuana industry, one from public safety, one from public health and one from a rural area. Walker said he struggled with staying within these requirements, “That was probably one of the toughest boards for me to select.”
Walker said he’s sensitive to gender equity and takes that into consideration for all appointments. But only a third of the roughly 100 board and commission appointments he’s made since becoming governor are women.
“I think we can certainly improve on that. Absolutely we can. And I think that if you look at our administration I think you’ll see we’ve done a good job on that as well,” Walker said.
Eight members of his 23-person cabinet are women.
Walker said he wasn’t comfortable with appointing an all-male board. There was a woman in Anchorage he hoped to get on the Marijuana Control Board – he didn’t recall her name – but he said another form of diversity took precedence.
“I wanted somebody from Southeast. There’s somebody from Juneau. There’s somebody from Fairbanks. There’s somebody from Anchorage. So regional is important to me as well, that there’s a regional representation,” Walker said.
For the rural seat, Walker appointed a Bethel man. For public safety, he chose a Soldotna man.
The appointments must be confirmed by a majority of the Alaska Legislature, but a deadline is coming up before that. By Nov. 24, this initial all-male board is responsible for adopting regulations for how the industry is going to operate. It controls the cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana in Alaska.
That’s a big deal.
“Very, very, very big job. I will agree with you, it’s huge,” said Cynthia Franklin, director of the Marijuana Control Board and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. She thinks regional diversity on the board is especially important at this early stage.
“If you had a board that was mostly Anchorage and Juneau, or even Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks that didn’t have representation from some of the small- and medium-sized areas, then you might get rules that might work for one area of the state that might not work for another area of the state,” Franklin said.
Amy Lovecraft finds having an all-male Marijuana Control Board troubling, “It would be unusual for a board that deals with social policy and health policy to be a board composed entirely of men.”
Lovecraft is a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She teaches courses on law and society, which involves looking at gender issues.
“When you’re dealing with, in particular, policies that may affect men and women, and may affect youth – girls and boys – may affect our elders all differently, those kinds of boards should make a special effort to have gender diversity,” Lovecraft said.
The Marijuana Control Board isn’t the only all-male state board. There are 12 others. Most of the members on these boards were originally appointed by other governors. Walker’s most recent appointment was Attorney General Craig Richards to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Board of Trustees, which is also all male.
That’s another board Lovecraft thinks should have some women.
“Certainly in 2015, one would think that concerns of mainstreaming gender across different kinds of policy areas would be something that an administration would take seriously,” Lovecraft said.
The main question is, Lovecraft said, “Can both genders have equal expertise in the gender concerns of the other to represent them in policy? And, while I would like to say yes…”
We’re still not quite there yet, she said, and it’s best to preserve gender diversity.
One member’s term on the Marijuana Control Board expires next year. Walker says when further appointments to the board are made, women will be represented.
Kim Kole has already submitted her resume.
Jennifer Canfield and Lakeidra Chavis contributed reporting to this story.