Want to meet other fabulous people who are interested in promoting women in leadership? Mark your calendars for our fall social on Wednesday, October 7, from 7-9 PM! Colorado 50-50 is partnering with Wyoming Women’s Action Network. We’re particularly interested in encouraging rural women to attend this gathering as they consider running for town councils and school boards in 2021.
Meet women elected officials and candidates. Have fun discussing politics. Get connected with people working on campaigns and hear what it is like. Suggested $5 donation to support the work of Colorado 50-50. You will also have the opportunity to donate to the Wyoming Women’s Action Network.
Women won 54.5% of school board seats in 2019, higher than the national average
By Erin Hottenstein
In November of odd years, about half of Colorado’s 974 nonpartisan school board seats are up for election. New research from Colorado 50-50 shows that women won 54.5% of school board seats in 2019, higher than the national average.
Does having more women on school boards make a difference? Thompson School District Board President Lori Hvizda Ward of Loveland believes so. “In my personal experience, I’ve found women to be better listeners and more open to seeing opposing viewpoints,” she said. “I think women are more willing to change their mind or position on an issue over time or with new information.”
“The downside of this is that decision making can be slowed down. Women tend to be less authoritarian and more democratic, especially as board leaders,” she continued. “They often are also the peacemakers. These all lead to better decision-making, as does diversity in general.”
From August through November 2019, a total of 479 people participated in the process – they filed as candidates, ran for office, and/or were appointed. Out of those, 314 people took seats on 129 different school boards.
“Won by Acclamation”
One interesting finding was that at least 91 people (46 women and 45 men) “won by acclamation.” That means that there were either just enough candidates or not enough, and so the school board cancelled the election. For example, there were three seats available and three candidates. With no contest, there would be no need to go through the costly process of an election.
It’s likely that the number was actually far higher. Across the state, there are 178 school boards and yet only 129 were represented in data received from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. In several instances, school boards had vacancies even beyond November.
Some women looking to get more involved in their communities might find lower barriers to getting elected to the school board. They might only need a small number of signatures to become candidates, and then find that a campaign is unnecessary if others don’t step up to compete.
Women ran in higher numbers and won at higher rates
Of all the Coloradans who participated in the school board selection process, 255 were women and 224 were men.
Looking at the total number of people who were involved, women won at 26.4% and men won at 20.7%. It is interesting that the other figures are close to even, including the number that won by acclamation (9.8% for women, 9.6% for men) and the number that lost (16.4% for women, 16.6% for men).
If you look only at the pool of contest winners, women won 54.5% of the seats while men won 45.5%. In terms of actual numbers of seats, women won 124 seats and men won 97.
Consuelo Redhorse is a school board member in Summit County. The prior board was all-female and the current board has six women and one man. Redhorse said in her experience women are typically more involved in school events, meetings, and organizations – which could explain why women run for school board in higher numbers.
“[Women] tend to become more familiar with the school culture and environment and maintain more personal relationships with school personnel and other parents who are involved in the school organizations,” Redhorse said. “The relationships and knowledge of what’s going on in the schools make for a good foundation to become involved with the school system on a higher level.”
Front Range vs. Rural
There was a noticeable difference in the win rates for the Front Range versus rural areas. By the Front Range, we’re talking about the urban and suburban corridor around Interstate 25 from Fort Collins south to Pueblo.
Front Range women won almost 62% of the seats, while rural women won about 54% of seats. While both are above the national average for school board members, that’s an eight point difference.
Another issue is the number of seats. Along the Front Range, women won 58 seats and another 17 won by acclamation for a total of 75 seats out of 130 that were available.
However, in rural areas, there are many more districts and board seats. Rural women won 75 seats and took another 20 seats by acclamation for a total of 95 seats out of the 182 seats available. Bear in mind that our study includes all the 49 Front Range districts among the 129, but does not include 49 other rural districts for which we did not have information.
Trying to fill more seats in a less dense population can be a challenge. “It is hard to get any candidates in some of the more rural areas,” Hvizda Ward said. Sometimes “they waive the two-term limit, allow employees to serve, or have people that serve repeated terms after being off for a term or two.”
There is a tremendous opportunity for rural Colorado women to step up to leadership and make a difference in their communities. They can learn more about their local districts by volunteering on something like a parent accountability committee, or by attending school board meetings. Once they decide to run, women will need to circulate a nomination petition, which happens in early August. We hope that women from across Colorado will begin thinking now about running for school board in 2021 and contact us so that we can support them.
About Colorado 50-50 – We are a statewide all-volunteer organization that inspires and trains women to run for office. We also encourage women to apply for boards and commissions, because we want to see gender parity everywhere. Please reach out to us to volunteer or talk about a joint event.
Thanks – Our sincere gratitude goes out to the following volunteers for their help with the research. Data analysis and research – Aili Miyake and Erin Hottenstein. Research – Megan Sanders, Dani Dawes, Micala Khavari, Natalie Hodgman, Laurie Krall, and Tara Eveland.
Methodology – We started with a list of school board candidates from the Colorado Secretary of State’s website. We got the first list after the filing deadlines had passed, but before election day. We got the second list a couple of weeks after the election. Looking at the names, we made our best guess as to the gender of the person. For gender neutral names, we sought more information via internet search engines. Based on this method, we were not able to determine if a person was gender non-conforming, nonbinary, or transgender. For these reasons, it’s possible we made errors.
Then, we sought to determine if the candidate won or lost using the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, county clerks’ websites, school districts’ websites, and online newspaper articles. In some cases, we contacted the school districts for more information. Along the way, we found information about people who had won by acclamation – meaning the school district canceled the election for lack of a contest. We also found appointees and folks who had been candidates, but didn’t register with the Secretary of State.
We divided the counties into Front Range and Rural. Front Range counties include: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Elbert, Fremont, Jefferson, Larimer, Pueblo, Teller, and Weld. Rural counties include the other 51 counties. Toward the end of our project, we realized that there were 178 school districts in existence, but only candidate filings from the Secretary of State’s office for 129 districts. In the interest of time and needing to turn our attention to the 2020 election, we decided we would go with what we had and seek more complete data next time.
Mark your calendars! We are partnering with the University of Northern Colorado to put on our next event on Thursday, November 29, 6-9 PM, in Greeley.
When women run for office, they win just as often as men do. So why aren’t there more women in office? Because they don’t run – or they didn’t used to! Winning With Women will demystify the process of running for office. We’ll start with a panel discussion of elected women officials and then go into an intentional networking session. We’ll also have maps and handouts, so you can find out what offices are coming open and when.
In late 2017, a man allegedly groped Rep. Daneya Esgar at a banquet. While she did not name him publicly, she said they regularly work together. She felt a hand wrap around her thigh “and start moving upward.” When she gasped and said, “Oh my gosh!” he replied by saying, “Now, darling. You don’t need to make a scene.”
Actually, we do need to make a scene. Time’s up. This behavior is disgusting. We won’t tolerate it anymore.
As has been made abundantly clear in the Colorado Capitol since this past November, sexual harassment in politics is a systemic problem and a significant barrier to women’s full participation in government.You shouldn’t need a bodyguard to work at the capitol. Five different male legislators – from both parties and both chambers – have had formal complaints filed by staffers or colleagues alleging sexual harassment in the workplace. All five have issued denials.
One, Rep. Steve Lebsock, propositioned a fellow lawmaker for sex at an after-hours event. “I said no, five times… I used all the tools women have to say no. I laughed it off, I told him to go home to his girlfriend, I said no directly. Nothing worked,” said Rep. Faith Winter. When Lebsock didn’t stop, another male lawmaker intervened to help. That was just one of 11 allegations from five different women that were found to be credible by a third-party investigator. On March 2, after an intense seven-hour debate, the Colorado House voted to expel him from the legislature
Four other complaints have met with differing results.
Another legislator, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, has faced three formal complaints. After the first complaint — that he slapped or grabbed the buttocks of an aide on multiple occasions last year — was investigated and found to be credible, Baumgardner agreed to take sensitivity training and voluntarily stepped down from one chairmanship. Yet he faced no formal censure and retains the chairmanship of another committee. The two other separate complaints are still under investigation.
Accusation No. 4 is against Sen. Larry Crowder. A third-party investigation found credible the allegation that he pinched the buttocks of a female lawmaker in 2015 and made an inappropriate sexual remark to her in 2017. The two met in a private mediation session with two other legislative leaders in February, at which time Crowder apologized, but did not admit to doing anything wrong. There appears to have been no further corrective action.
It’s been two months and nothing has been done – at least publicly – since a formal investigation concluded it was more likely than not that Sen. Jack Tate harassed an 18-year-old intern. Over several months last year, he leered at her, nudged her and made comments about her clothes. One time, she alleged, Tate said to her, “if she wanted to move up in the world, give him a call.” The power discrepancy here is inescapable. Tate retains a committee chairmanship.
“I want him to answer for his actions,” the victim said recently. “The onus has to be put on the people in power to make that decision. It’s one small voice who is deemed credible. All I can hope for is the men in power who I looked up to do the right thing.”
A common thread of entitlement runs through these stories. These men somehow felt entitled to touch, grab, slap, pinch and say all manner of things. They are (or were) in positions of authority and they abused their power. And we know that the problem is not limited to these five individuals.
We cannot accept a statehouse where 40 aides and interns feel the need to write a letter to legislative leaders calling for more security because of the widespread sexual harassment. We cannot accept a situation where a few souls are brave enough to file formal complaints, but numerous others won’t for fear of losing their jobs.
Since 2016, there have been encouraging signs for women in politics, with record numbers of women running for and winning office across the country. But we can’t continue to ask these women to sign up for hostile work environments like the one that persists in the Colorado Capitol. It’s like saying, “Yay, you were elected! Now watch out for him, him and him.”
It’s time we start asking some different questions of candidates – Have you ever been accused of harassment? What will you do to ensure a safe working environment at the Capitol and every other workplace in the state?
We also need different candidates. A recent article from the Harvard Business Review says hiring and promoting women addresses the two root causes of sexual harassment. In the parlance of politics, that means we have to elect and appoint more women if we want a safer workplace under the gold dome.
Besides, we think our democracy works best when it reflects the population. White men comprise 31 percent of our country’s population and hold 65 percent of elected positions, says Who Leads US. Women of color comprise 19 percent of our population and hold just 4 percent of elected offices.
All Americans and Coloradans should want to help end sexual harassment. Women lawmakers, aides, interns, lobbyists, secretaries and cleaning staff deserve to work in safe environments.
Bodyguards and extra security may be a necessary short-term fix, but the real solutions are real consequences for the men who commit these offenses, and ultimately, to elect more women.
Update: Since we wrote this post, the Colorado Senate considered expelling Sen. Randy Baumgardner. The resolution failed 17-17. Also, a formal sexual harassment complaint has been filed against State Senator Daniel Kagan for allegedly using the women’s bathroom repeatedly. He says he used it once by mistake due to lacking signage and a broken keypad, but other lawmakers are accusing him of using it multiple times.
Have you ever had the inkling to run for office? Do you want to run, but aren’t sure where to start? We are searching for women candidates and potential candidates for our upcoming training on Sat. March 3.
We’re thrilled to announce that we are partnering with VoteRunLead to provide an all-day training for women on Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Fort Collins. Whether you are a candidate, you might be a candidate someday, or want to help other women run, this training is for you.
With more than 26,000 women trained to run for office, VoteRunLead is the largest and most diverse campaign and leadership program in the country. Their mission is to educate diverse women to unleash their independent political power, seek public office and transform American democracy. They work to equip women with the right know-how, trainings and how-to’s to help them enter politics with a purpose. They believe that by empowering women to run as they are, they will build a campaign based on their own passion, their own ideas and their own values.