Report on Women's Participation in Bicyle Advisory Committees release

Cathy DeLuca has released her thesis on women's participation in bicycle advisory committees in California. I've published the executive summary below.

Link to Full Report: Women's Participation in CA Bicycle Advisory Committees

Executive Summary

If men feel fine being aggressive and having open road biking, then that’s what we’re gonna have until women get on those groups and say “this actually makes me uncomfortable.”

– Woman member from a California bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee

In the United States, women bicycle at significantly lower rates than men. One method of remedying this disparity is to ensure that women are engaged in bicycle planning and policy making. Bicycle advisory committees are one group that undertakes such work. These bodies are formed by governments and planning agencies to provide input on bicycle planning and policy decisions. No research has been conducted on women’s levels of participation in these bodies. This study attempts to fill that gap by exploring women’s participation in California bicycle advisory committees and bicycle/pedestrian advisory committees.

Part One: Gender Composition of Bicycle (and Pedestrian) Advisory Committees in California

In the spring of 2011, the coordinators of 42 bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees throughout California were surveyed about the gender composition of their committee. Findings follow.

• At the time of the survey, women made up approximately 24% of members on an average bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committee in California. They made up approximately 19% of members on bicycle advisory committees and approximately 27% of members on combined bicycle and pedestrian committees.

• Men constituted the majority of members on 38 committees, while women were the majority on only 3. (One committee had an equal number of male and female members.)

Part Two: Interviews with Women on Bicycle (and Pedestrian) Advisory Committees

In the summer of 2011, women from 10 bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees in California were interviewed in an effort to understand women’s experiences on these committees. The interviews with the women revealed the following findings:

• Women on bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees are more likely than men to bring up women’s issues, children’s issues, and issues related to other user groups.

• Several aspects related to the committees might be unappealing to women, including:

o The steep learning curve experienced by new members 

o The high proportion of male members

o Men’s unsupportive behavior

o Men’s tendency to dominate the floor

o Men’s increased likelihood of having a technical background

• Several characteristics related to the women themselves might act as barriers to participation, including the need to feel knowledgeable before speaking, the lack of confidence in their contribution, and women’s tendency to care for children.

• Women on the 3 committees with the highest percentage of women (out of the 10) all commented on the significant presence of women in their local government.

Part Three: Online Survey of Women Bicyclists

In the fall of 2011, an online survey of women bicyclists was administered to explore the barriers that keep female citizens from seeking membership in bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees. This survey was distributed by 16 bicycle clubs and bicycle advocacy groups located throughout California. The main findings from the survey follow.

• The majority of women (67%) had some level of awareness of whether a bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committee existed where they lived.

• The top five barriers to committee involvement named by the women were:

1. Time (60%)

2. Lack of qualifications (25%)

3. Lack of specific information about the committee (18%)

4. Family and household responsibilities (16%)

5. Lack of interest in politics (12%)

• A number of survey respondents explicitly named the male-dominated nature of their local committee as a barrier to their involvement.


If women bicyclists are largely aware of bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees, but the number of women serving on these committees is low, the main focus should be on increasing the number of women who seek to get involved. Specific recommendations for doing so follow.

Policy Recommendations for Increasing Women’s Participation

Governments and agencies wishing to increase women’s participation in bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees should begin by reading the guide created by Iowa state called Recruiting Gender Balanced Boards and Commissions: A Guide for Cities and Counties. A copy is included in this study’s full report. In addition, to increase the number of women on bicycle committees, governments and agencies could implement the strategies below.

Education about the Committee

Almost one-fifth of survey respondents said they did not have enough specific information about their committee to consider membership. Educating the public about the committee is an easyremedy to this barrier, and it could also ease women’s lack of confidence in their qualifications. Recommended strategies include the following:

• Outreach materials could explain the role of the committee, expectations for its members, and how the committee contributes to the community.

• New members could be given educational materials to help them understand planning terminology and practices, as well as the role and procedures of the committee.

• Women could be mentored through the application and appointment process, and they could be given additional support as new committee members.

Targeted Recruitment Efforts

Targeted efforts to recruit women could increase the number of women who apply to bicycle (and pedestrian) advisory committees. Ideally, this will result in committees with a more balanced number of men and women, which itself might make the committees appealing to more women. Recommended recruitment strategies include the following:


• Governments/agencies can expand their outreach efforts to women’s organizations (women’s clubs, mother’s clubs) and to organizations in which women are very active (PTAs, Safe Routes to School groups, etc.). Environmental organizations might also be a good outreach target, as environmental interests were common amongst the women committee members who were interviewed.
• Individual committee members can be asked to encourage women they know to apply.
• Women who attend committee meetings as members of the public could be encouraged
to apply.

• When advertising openings, the government or agency can state: “Women encouraged to apply.”

Policy and Procedural Changes

Instituting new policies and procedures could help ensure that more women have an opportunity to become committee members and can also make the committee environments more comfortable for women. Recommended strategies include the following:

• The chair and staff support person(s) should be educated about the challenges to participation faced by many women committee members.

• The chair and/or staff support person(s) should facilitate the meetings in a manner that gives all members an opportunity to speak and that prevents dominant members from monopolizing. A formal turn-taking process could be instituted as part of this effort.

• The government/agency could provide childcare during meetings.

• The government/agency could create a policy that requires a gender balance on the committee. Enforcement of such a policy would be key, however, considering the lack of effectiveness of the few policies that currently exist.

• The government/agency could institute term limits. This is especially important on committees with a longstanding male majority.

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