For an organization that works to promote opportunities for women on corporate boards and in executive positions, gender disparity in the makeup of state commissions and advisory boards was a natural problem to tackle.
So Network 2000 reached out to the Maryland gubernatorial candidates asking for a commitment to fill half of those appointive positions with women. The responses they received from Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan did not please the group’s members — many of them female business leaders in the state, including bank presidents, law firm partners and corporate CFOs.
“We got responses back from both of the candidates that they would take it into account,” said Janine DiPaula Stevens, the president of Network 2000. “We didn’t get an actual commitment.”
An Aug. 4 letter response from Brown promised to “appoint highly qualified, diverse candidates to all vacancies,” as well as “build upon the progress of the last eight years and strive to increase women’s representation across appointees.”
Neither Brown’s response nor Hogan’s, which was dated Aug. 20 and promised to “focus on bringing in the best and the brightest women across the state into my Administration,” mentioned Network 2000’s request for a commitment to filling 50 percent of commission vacancies with women. The Brown and Hogan campaigns did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
The request for commitments to gender equality in appointments aligns with Network 2000’s goal of increasing women’s presence in the upper levels of management, said member Patricia Lambert, an attorney with Pessin Katz Law, P.A. in Towson.
“Oftentimes one of the impediments to rising to such a level is that women don’t have significant experience, and sometimes that experience is gained through important government boards,” Lambert said.
Lambert said she received “invaluable experience” while serving on the boards of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund and the Injured Workers’ Insurance Fund, and Network 2000 aims to give other women the same opportunity.
Filling half of vacancies on “state commissions, committees, task forces, advisory boards and intrastate agencies” with women would make a huge impact on the representation of women in public positions, said DiPaula Stevens, the CEO of Vircity, a back-office resource center for small businesses and nonprofits.
Based on information on the Maryland Manual website, DiPaula Stevens estimated there will be at least 368 vacancies on commissions in 2014, and at least 433 in 2015, along with 89 positions that are currently vacant. These figures were included in Network 2000’s letters to Brown and Hogan, which the group mailed on July 7.
Network 2000 members said they’ll continue to urge a commitment to gender equality once they can focus their attention on whichever candidate wins the gubernatorial election in November.
“Then we can turn back to them and say, to whoever wins, ‘You are saying that you are willing to step up and help, but we’d really like a commitment,’” DiPaula Stevens said. “I really do think that there’s an opportunity, especially since we’ve brought it to their attention.”
In their letter responses, Hogan and Brown both suggested a continued dialogue with Network 2000, which Lambert said the group intends to follow up on.
“Both candidates have suggested that we would have a place at the table, and we would hope to hold them to that,” she said.