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Civic boards and commissions in Missouri lack diversity, new report shows

A mural of diverse silhouettes
Tracy J. Lee
Special to NPR

The membership of boards and commissions in Missouri does not reflect the racial, ethnic and gender composition of the state. That’s according to a new report by University of Missouri-St. Louis and University of North Carolina researchers.

“Boards who wield the most power and the most resources … like planning and zoning, economic development, budget and finance … we call those ‘power boards,’" said study author and UMSL political scientist Anita Manion. “We find that men, particularly white men, are really overrepresented on those power boards in Missouri. The voices of women and people of color are diminished on these boards that have influence over things like segregation, housing prices, economic justice, and other issues.”

While women make up more than half the population in Missouri, they make up less than 37% of the members of boards and commissions. Similarly, while nearly 12% of the state's population is Black, only 5.4% of the representation on boards and commissions is made of Black members.

Anita Manion, left, Wendy Doyle, right
Emily Woodbury
Anita Manion, left, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Wendy Doyle, right, is president and CEO of United WE.

Boards and commissions are important not only for the immediate impact they have on communities, but for the role they often serve as a launching pad for individuals seeking public office.

In order for there to be systemic improvement in these areas, local leaders need to make the application process easier, clearer and more transparent, said Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United WE, which funded the report.

“If we can make change at a more local level, perhaps that can then elevate to a county, a state level, and then on to elected office,” she said. “For those who may be in retirement or just starting their career, it's such a great opportunity to give back to the community and also to continue to build a network, [as well as to] represent your perspective and point of view at the table.”

Manion and Doyle discussed the report’s findings — and shared methods to effectively address these disparities — on St. Louis on the Air. Listen to the conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.

Anita Manion joins "St. Louis on the Air"

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.