January 12, 2011

Maine Voices: Gov. LePage has an opportunity to support diversity in his appointments

The group of women who can serve with distinction in his administration is large and talented.

By SARAH STANDIFORD

AUGUSTA — As Gov. Le-Page considers experienced personnel for appointments to his Cabinet, boards and commissions, I hope he will make a special effort to recruit and consider women at every level.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Standiford
is executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center and the Maine Women’s Lobby, both nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls and engage women in the policymaking process.

This will not only help sustain the great progress towards parity that Gov. Baldacci initiated, it will ensure that the critical questions facing Maine's new administration – about jobs, health care, the economy – are most fully addressed.

According to a recent article by MaineToday Media State House reporter Susan Cover on women in leadership in Augusta, this year is likely to be a transitional one at the State House.

This year follows a "two-year stretch during which women occupied some of the state's most powerful political positions."

Not only have women recently led in some of the most prominent elected and constitutional officer positions, women served at the highest appointed levels as well.

Last summer, the Maine Women's Policy Center assessed the top 420 board and commission appointments under the Baldacci administration.

Women made up 33 percent of these positions, including 45 percent of Cabinet posts.

Female Cabinet members and staff established expertise over a wide array of policy, including finance, housing and labor.

Who will occupy these leadership posts over the next four years?

Unfortunately, judging from his early appointments, women are less likely to be represented.

Gov. LePage has an opportunity to ensure women's leadership does not wane during his tenure, by aggressively seeking the input from a diverse pool of applicants right now.

The new governor should champion the recruitment and consideration of women in order to ensure the state government is truly representative, and call upon his senior staff to do the same.

He can make a public statement, and he can ask the transition team to make it a priority.

He should do so in the interest of equality, and because all Maine people will benefit by policy decisions influenced by diverse voices.

Without women, leadership suffers. Policy solutions are more complete when the conclusions stem from robust and diverse debate.

Women lawmakers and advocates – whether they be Republicans, Democrats or independents – bring forward unique and diverse perspectives on family, health, entrepreneurship, education and the environment.

If given the opportunity, these perspectives will enrich the new administration at every level.

The need for robust debate is more important now than ever before, given the major challenges the state faces in crafting smart economic development strategies and adequately funding state priorities.

Women have a demonstrated capacity developed over years of being on the outside of power looking in for crafting consensus and negotiated solutions that work for everyone. Women's aptitude for negotiation can position them as top-notch political leaders.

The public agrees, according to major public opinion surveys.

According to a 2008 Pew Research Center study, 69 percent rate men and women as equally good leaders – with women, by a 13-point margin, saying that women leaders are most likely to represent their interests and to better forge compromise.

Newly elected officials should take note, as women are going to continue to be a critically decisive voting block in elections to come.

According to Vital Voices, an organization that seeks to increase women's representation throughout the world, women's increased presence in politics corresponds with greater transparency – a trait our new governor has emphasized throughout the campaign and transition – and more attention paid to education reforms, social development and achieving gender equality across all sectors.

Most importantly, Maine is stronger when it selects leadership from 100 percent of its talent pool.

It's in the interest of the incoming governor and the public he will serve to continue to lead the march to political equality.

That's because Maine's democracy will be truly representative when leadership is richly diverse.

Moreover, when more women are in positions of leadership alongside men, the policy debates will be truly comprehensive.

Now's the moment for Gov. LePage to make parity a reality.

 

- Special to The Press Herald

 

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