* From the Illinois Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access panel’s report…
The key to improving the culture for women in politics is to engage more women in politics and advance them to leadership positions. Even though Illinois’ percentage of female legislators at 35.6% ranks comparatively well among other states, women, particularly women of color, are still underrepresented throughout the ranks of Illinois politics, including on legislative staffs, on the local level, and in party leadership. For example, of the female legislators in Illinois in 2017, only 23% were Black women, or 8.5% of Illinois’ total number of state legislators.
The initial step toward growing the number of women involved in all of Illinois politics is committing to a concrete goal so that we can develop policies to achieve the goal, measure our progress, and hold ourselves and our parties accountable. We recommend that political leaders across Illinois come together and adopt a collective goal of increasing the number of female state legislators as well as all state, county, and municipal officeholders in Illinois to at least 50%, and towards similar goals for other diverse candidates.
To achieve this goal, we need buy-in from all the state political parties, and we need to build the pipeline of qualified female candidates by effectively recruiting them, training them, and supporting them when they run, as described with more specificity below.
On the staff level, women accounted for only 22% of staff-level research and policy positions in the General Assembly.7 On the local level, only 21% of the mayors in 2017 of U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 and above were women and only 14 of those 286 female mayors were in Illinois.8 It is well-documented that the culture and outcomes for women are improved when more women are in leadership positions. It is crucial that our male allies be equally invested in the overall mission of improving culture for women and play an active role in recruiting, developing, and supporting women to run for election.
* “Director of Diversity”…
We know women are qualified to fill elected positions and that they want the opportunity to run, but in practice, women are less likely to run for political office than their male counterparts. The reasons for this are complex and ingrained in society and women themselves. Regardless of the source of the problem, many women need to be expressly recruited and encouraged to run in order to actually enter the race. The state parties need to respond to that reality and organize targeted recruitment efforts to overcome the real and perceived obstacles that prevent women from running. Specifically, the state parties should dedicate top-level staff to working on recruitment of women and other diverse candidates, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.
The state parties can address the lack of support for women candidates by being cognizant of the bias women face and acting intentionally to counter it. To do so, the parties must assign a manager-level staff person to act as a Director of Diversity, who is responsible for working with the party chair and leadership throughout the ranks of the party with the goal of recruiting and developing diverse candidates, with a focus on female candidates, for General Assembly spots as well as local level elected positions. These recruitment efforts should not stop at the candidate level. The Director of Diversity should also work on recruiting diverse candidates, particularly women, for top-level staff, campaign management, and board and commission positions.
* An expanded “Rooney Rule”…
We want to increase the number of diverse people – particularly women – at every level of politics. Therefore, any political leader or staff member with the power to fill vacancies – from a position on the board of the public library or a city council vacancy to statewide commission positions to appointed positions within the state parties and everything in between – should require that the person be selected from a slate of diverse candidates. This rule should also apply to any hiring decisions for paid staff positions on campaigns and elected official’s staffs. Although similar to the “Rooney Rule” adopted by the NFL requiring a single diverse candidate to be considered for all head coaching jobs, our recommendation goes beyond that to require several diverse candidates to be considered for all hiring or appointment opportunities. This is a concrete measure for overcoming the age-old excuse of a lack of qualified female or diverse applicants. Beyond requiring a diverse pool of candidates, political leaders should also require that those handling the interview process and hiring/appointment decision are also diverse.
* Advisory Board…
Each political party should establish an Advisory Board to implement the policies described above and hold the party accountable to the participation, funding, and culture goals it aspires to.
The Advisory Board should collect, retain, and monitor demographic data regarding recruitment, hiring, and promotion of employees within the party. Based on that data, the Advisory Board can assess the party’s progress towards its goals, hold the party accountable, and adjust its policies based on the actual outcomes in terms of the number of diverse candidates running for office, winning office, and holding leadership positions within political offices and campaigns.
There’s more in the report, so click here to read it all.
…Adding… House Speaker and DPI Chairman Michael Madigan…
“Addressing harassment, increasing access and ensuring equality of all forms are issues of great importance to the Democratic Party of Illinois, and the time and commitment that Comptroller Mendoza, Senator Bush and Representative Ammons showed in assembling these recommendations underscores the priority we put on getting this right. I’m truly grateful for all who shared their time, their personal experiences, and their commitment for change with the Anti-Harassment, Equality, and Access Panel.
“A great number of the Panel’s recommendations are now in place within the Democratic Party of Illinois, including adopting a new zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind, requiring mandatory training for staff and candidates receiving financial assistance, and hiring outside counsel to conduct independent investigations of any allegations. Additional steps to curb unacceptable behavior and make our party a welcoming place for all will continue to be considered and implemented going forward.
“There is more work to be done to create legislative bodies that truly represent the diversity of our state. This has been a priority for me as a Democrat and as the leader of the House Democratic Caucus. Today, women account for more than 50 percent of our House Democratic Caucus and nearly half are women of color. But unfortunately this is a distinction no other large legislative caucus in the country can claim. In fact, no other legislative caucus in Illinois – outside the House Democratic caucus – is even 40 percent female.
“Diversity, equality and representation don’t happen by accident. It requires commitment, effort and time to make sure our governmental bodies – and our political parties – reflect the rich diversity of Illinois, and the different experiences, viewpoints and perspectives from those diverse voices. There remains work to be done, and I look forward to continuing to work with my fellow Democrats to make our party a welcoming place for all.”