CINCINNATI -- Denise Driehaus was one of the few women on the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s board years ago when her daughter’s softball team ran into a problem.
The team couldn’t find any fields available for their games because the recreation commission had given all the permits to an all-boys Knothole Baseball league.
Knothole Baseball wasn’t using all the fields, Driehaus said, but reserved them all so their teams would have back-ups in case a field became too wet for a game.
Driehaus objected and convinced the recreation commission to make fields available for girls’ softball teams, too.
“It took a woman sitting on a board who had a daughter to say, ‘Wait a minute. We need to think differently about the way we do this,’” said Driehaus, who now is a Hamilton County Commissioner.
Across the eight-county Greater Cincinnati region, women make up a little more than half the population. But they hold only about 30 percent of the seats on government-appointed boards and commissions, according to The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
That’s why The Women’s Fund is launching a new, nonpartisan initiative called Appointed. It aims to increase the number of women on civic boards and commissions. And there are compelling reasons -- beyond basic fairness -- for making such boards more diverse, said Holly Hankinson, advocacy director of The Women’s Fund.
“There’s a lot of data that shows that increasing women and increasing diversity in general is good for the boards,” Hankinson said. “When groups are more homogenous, they tend to be more sure of their decisions. But those decisions are wrong more often.”
Appointed has a website designed to make it easy for local women to express their interest in serving. Women take a five-minute, online survey about their interests and experience, and the initiative will provide training to explain what it takes to be a board member.
The initiative launches today with an event at People’s Liberty in Over-the-Rhine. There has been so much interest in Appointed that the event filled up quickly. Hankinson said there would be more events planned, but women who want to learn more can get started right away online.
Hankinson said The Women’s Fund doesn’t believe there has been an intentional effort to keep women off civic boards and commissions.
But it found that women are more likely to wait to be asked to join, whereas men are more likely to express their interest directly, she said.
Women also tend to question whether they have the skills and experience that a civic board or commission needs, Hankinson said. That’s where the training component of Appointed will come into play, she said.
In addition, governments don’t always have the resources to spread the word about upcoming appointments.
Appointed will be able to give elected officials a list of interested, qualified women who would make good board or commission candidates, Hankinson said.
Driehaus said that would be a huge help for elected officials like her. She noted that Hamilton County has a lot of boards and commissions for which she and her fellow county commissioners make appointments.
Of the county’s appointments since Driehaus took office in 2017, 55 percent have been women, she said.
“We have been very intentional about looking at these boards and trying to create balance,” she said.
Rashida Manuel hopes she can be nominated to a civic board as a result of the initiative.
She heard about Appointed from a friend and got involved in the committee that has been working on the initiative.
Manuel, a community advocate who lives in Glendale, is a member of nonprofit boards of directors, including the boards for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Friends of WGSS, which raises money to support the work of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati.
But she had not considered being part of a civic board until she heard about Appointed.
“I thought, ‘Is this something I’d want to do? Am I qualified?’” she said. “Then I realized I was like all the women we were researching who just need to put their hand up to get involved.”
Manuel is especially interested in women’s health, issues of racial justice and how those two intersect. She’s hoping Appointed can help her get even more involved in the community than she already is and that more women will stick their hands up to get involved, too, without fearing that they don’t have the experience they need to serve.
“I really think that we need to remind ourselves that we’re already tackling so much, juggling so many tasks already. So it’s just about having that extra push that this is something that you can do,” she said. “And it’s needed.”
Kate Schroder knows first-hand just how valuable a woman’s perspective can be.
Schroder is vice president of the essential medicines program at the Clinton Health Access Initiative and has been a member of the city of Cincinnati’s Board of Health for more than two years.
Strengthening boards, building people
For much of her time on the nine-member board, she was one of two women, she said. Now the board has three women members.
“The majority of the patients the city serves are female patients going through a lot of child birth and child care. And women are the primary healthcare decision-makers in these families,” she said. “And it’s really important on the board that you have people that can identify with those women and are empathetic and understanding of those concerns.”
Recently, for example, the board of health was grappling with a tight budget. One of the most expensive programs the health department operates, Schroder said, is a program that provides home health visits after a mother gives birth.
The board was discussing ways to reduce the cost of the program. The idea of outsourcing even came up, she said.
“As a mother who’s had two children who’s had home visits after the birth of my child, those visits are so important for breastfeeding and for so many areas,” Schroder said. “I was one of the key people pushing for: Let’s find another way to do this.”
Schroder pushed for bringing together the program, health department leadership and the agency’s chief financial officer, she said. They ended up finding a way to take advantage of some new billing techniques that will allow the agency not only to continue the program’s services, but also to expand them, she said.
“It may have happened anyway,” she said. “But I think being a woman, having the personal perspective of that experience made a big difference in advocating for that and pushing for a solution that did not diminish the services in any way.”
Another benefit to getting more women on civic boards and commissions is that their work also can prepare them for other roles if they want them, Driehaus said.
Her tenure as a volunteer board member on the recreation commission lasted 16 years, she said. That experience gave Driehaus the confidence to run for the Ohio House of Representatives, where she served for eight years, before being elected a Hamilton County commissioner.
“It’s a great experience for a woman to get the experience she needs in order to have confidence to move into an elected role or business leader role,” she said. “I feel like, it helps the board. But also we are trying to build people.”
Manuel said she’s looking forward to seeing where Appointed takes her.
“What I’m excited about with this project is that we not only have the opportunity to be at the table,” she said. “But with the training and the support and the resources that the project will provide, it makes women feel equipped and empowered to make those changes when they’re actually at the table.”
More information about Appointed and The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation is available online.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.