Increase in women on government advisory boards stagnating

People with migration background ‘not in the picture’

The proportion of women on government advisory boards in the Netherlands has been stuck at 38% for the past ten years. The proportion of members with a migration background fell from 10% in 2010 to 4% in 2016. The legal provision that government advisory boards should have a proportionate number of women and people from an ethnic or cultural minority has not yet had the desired effect.

Cover report Diversiteit adviescolleges

These findings are presented in an audit of the diversity of 17 permanent government advisory boards carried out by the Court of Audit. The Court also notes that, precisely 100 year since the introduction of female suffrage, ‘the number of women in positions where they can decide on policy, laws and regulations is still making slow progress’.

Out of sight

The Court of Audit concludes in the report that ‘the increase in the number of women on permanent advisory bodies is stagnating’ and that ‘ethnic and cultural minorities are not in the picture’. If advisory boards are to be a reflection of society, the male/female balance would be 50/50 and the number of members from ethnic or cultural minorities would be 10%.

The Court of Audit wanted the audit to show how actively the government, which is responsible for appointments, seeks a balanced representation of women and persons from ethnic and cultural minority groups.

Percentage of female members has stagnated since 2011

Figuur rapport adviescolleges

Applying is ‘not done’

he audit paid a lot of attention to how advisory boards recruit new members. Of the 17 boards, nine invite candidates to apply for vacancies and then hold interviews. At six boards, the incumbent members decide among themselves who should be approached and who is eventually appointed. No consideration is given to people outside the incumbent board members’ networks. The Court of Audit concluded from the reasons for this co-option that ‘Applying is “not done” and there is a fear of “offending” the “important” persons concerned.’

Co-option has not adversely affected the percentage of women on advisory boards. In ‘feminine’ disciplines, such as law, women are particularly well represented in the networks of incumbent members. But co-option does not increase the number of advisory board members with a migration background. ‘Ethnic and cultural minorities are not in the picture’, according to the Court of Audit.

Advisory Boards Framework Act

The Court of Audit’s investigation shows that a legal provision does not automatically have the desired effect. The Advisory Board Framework Act states that ‘the appointment of the chairs and the other members of advisory boards should seek the proportionate representation of women and people from ethnic or cultural minority groups’. Even repeating this provision in the 2016 Appointments Manual has not helped.