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Women's Equality Day: Bipartisan group tries to get more women in government
By Jackie R. Broach
The Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics is collecting resumes from qualified women willing to serve in governor-appointed positions within state agencies.
“Women are underrepresented in senior level positions throughout South Carolina government,” said Candy Waites, executive director of the S.C. Gubernatorial Appointments Project, known as S.C. GAP.
The state ranks last in the nation in the number of women in the state legislature, with none in the 46-member Senate and 17 in the 124-member House of Representatives. For both, that’s a total representation of 10 percent.
Additionally, of 15 state agency directors appointed by the governor, only four are women. The governor also appoints members to various state boards and commissions and women are underrepresented there, as well.
“Some of them have no women on them now,” Waites said.
A bipartisan effort, S.C. GAP was created by the institute to increase the number of women serving in high-level, appointed positions in state government and ensure this year’s gubernatorial contest “brings wins for women appointees, regardless of who moves into the governor’s office.”
“Women add a different perspective,” Waites said. “They bring a different approach to the table and are a lot more collaborative. If we’re going to have a strong, just and equal society, we need to take advantage of the brain trust we have to contribute. I think that’s very important.”
But the project doesn’t aim to appoint women just because of their gender.
“We need the best leaders — men and women,” said Beth Steadman, who promoted the project at a Georgetown County League of Women Voters event last week. “We’re cheating ourselves, because we haven’t been sending women forth.”
Steadman is the co-founder and co-director of S.C. Women’s Connection, a local group for the advancement of women that is an advocate of the project.
Part of the reason more women aren’t serving in governor-appointed positions is because the governor and his staff have been unaware of women who would be good candidates, Waites said. S.C. GAP will try to overcome that by providing a bank of qualified women willing to serve. Project officials will review the applications and send them on to the new governor as positions open up.
The governor is not obligated to select any of the applicants, nor are the women who submit resumes obligated to accept a position. The object is for the governor to have a wider range of options at his or her fingertips.
Since the project started a few months ago, about 100 resumes have been collected, “but we’d really like to have a couple hundred more,” Waites said.
The resumes are being kept confidential, but the interests and qualifications of the candidates vary widely, she said. Applicants are needed to serve as paid agency heads, but also as members of boards and commissions — generally unpaid positions.
S.C. Rep. Vida Miller said she fully endorses S.C. GAP, and so does the General Assembly’s women’s caucus.
“One of our objectives over the years has been to involve more women in the process,” Miller said. “You look around and it’s clear women aren’t represented like they should be. We need to do everything we can to recruit these women and get their names up.”
Since Miller was elected 14 years ago, the highest number of women serving in the House has been 21, she said. The lowest was about 14.
“We’re somewhere in the middle now, but we know we’re going to lose some of those positions,” she said.
This will be the last year in the house for Republican S.C. Rep. Nikki Haley, who is running for governor against Democrat S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
Even though one of the candidates is female, S.C. GAP isn’t taking a position in the gubernatorial race.
And Haley opted not to sign a pledge for the project to “make every effort to appoint women.”
Haley “appreciates the merits” of what the project is trying to accomplish and “loves the idea of getting more women involved in public service,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for her campaign. “That said, Nikki is not going to make any pledges in reference to appointments, other than this one: She will always choose the highest qualified person for the job without regard to race or gender.
Sheheen did sign the pledge.
Of 150 appointed positions, 44 are filled by women. Counting 11 vacant positions, that’s 29 percent.
Women with interests or expertise in marine science, international affairs, arts, energy, disabilities, insurance, athletics, labor and construction are especially needed.