The state of New Jersey falls woefully short in terms of gender and racial diversity among its appointed public officials. Given that appointed boards and commissions have significant policymaking and regulatory authority and given that this state is among the most diverse in the country, it is alarming to consider the tremendous number of voices, perspectives, and life experiences missing from these governing bodies. It is urgently critical to address this challenge with intentional efforts to enhance diversity and maximize engagement among more communities within the state.
Our findings serve as a roadmap for scholars, activists, and government officials both here in New Jersey and in other states who may want to replicate these efforts, highlighting what is possible and what obstacles need to be addressed to make databases such as these, whose information is invaluable, a reality. Uniformity and efficiency are critical to achieving the legislation’s goal: to be able to measure and track over time the gender and racial/ethnic diversity of the state’s appointed officials. Finally, the data collection process should ultimately be housed within the state government with sufficient infrastructure provided for ongoing maintenance. The state must take responsibility for ensuring this data is collected, create mechanisms for doing so, and be held accountable for reporting this information on an ongoing basis.
While this demographic data illuminates the problem of persistent underrepresentation of women and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups on state boards and commissions, it also serves as a tool for tracking progress towards the goals of building more diverse governing bodies. We recommend a number of strategies aimed at providing accountability, encouraging greater citizen participation, and building transparency, and thus trust, in the state appointments process.
CAWP looks forward to continuing to collect, as best as possible, and analyze this data in 2023-2024 in order to provide a solid baseline of information on the gender/race/ethnicity of appointed officials in the Garden State. Our hope is that, during this time, more can be done to institutionalize the collection of this information within state government.