Being personally involved in APA's governance is an extraordinary experience, allowing me to interact with outstanding colleagues while deliberating cutting-edge policy decisions. My participation has shown me that we really are all one family: Science and practice are intimately intertwined, as are education and public interest.
For psychology to remain vibrant, APA's governance must reflect the cultural and demographic changes that are occurring within our nation. We must ensure that our board and committees and our Council of Representatives truly represent the diverse interests of our 159,000 members. We must recognize that the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) is the future. But right now, APA's leadership does not reflect much diversity. And, in fact, of APA's 438 governance positions, 41 colleagues serve on both the Council of Representatives and an APA board or committee.
Surveying psychology's diversity
APA is not, of course, the only association whose governance does not reflect its membership as well as we might like. In response to the 1995 report of the Task Force on the Changing Gender Composition of Psychology, APA's Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP) conducted a survey of women's leadership and involvement among all APA divisions; state, provincial and territorial psychological associations; and regional psychological associations. This survey was designed to determine the importance of women's issues and gender equity to the different organizations. Having grown up in a family dedicated to political involvement and seeing firsthand the barriers that often faced my mother, I know that change can be difficult.
The survey showed that although women represent 47 percent of APA membership (75 percent of APAGS today), women's leadership representation in most of the divisions and state associations is not comparable. It is somewhat better in the associations than in divisions (i.e., 34 percent, compared with only 12 percent, indicated their percentages of female leadership as high as the percentage of APA membership).
Since then, CWP has carefully reviewed the composition of all APA boards and committees. The 1999 Governance Survey collected data on women, ethnic minorities, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and individuals with disabilities who serve in and seek office. The 1999 data indicate that although women are serving in higher numbers than men on APA boards and committees (54 percent v. 42 percent, respectively), the composition of Council--our highest policy body--tells a different story. Sixty percent of Council members are men and only 40 percent are women. An overwhelming 80 percent of governance members (board, committee and Council members) identified themselves as Caucasian/white. Representation of ethnic minorities serving on Council was considerably lower than on boards/committees (9 percent v. 20 percent). Voluntary self-disclosure on the disability status and sexual orientation of governance members was also sought, but the high nonresponse rate makes conclusions difficult.
Fixing the problem
APA is committed to attracting more diversity in its leadership. To address concerns that underrepresented constituencies didn't vie for governance positions because they were unfamiliar with the steps to get elected, the association designed the brochure "Be Active in APA Governance" to explain the fundamentals of APA's nominations and elections process. In addition, APA has held special symposiums to attract and encourage diverse groups of APA's membership and equip them with the knowledge needed to gain entry into governance.
Meanwhile, "Valuing Diversity" is the theme for the Public Interest Miniconvention for this year's APA Annual Convention, Aug. 48, in Washington, D.C. In developing this program, the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest considered diversity in light of disability concerns; the human rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals; women's changing roles; issues associated with people of color; and the impact of an increasingly elderly population. Diversity and its values are of critical importance to, and for, research, practice, education and public policy.
These, among many other efforts, are important first steps, yet, much more must be done. We know it is extraordinarily difficult for "new blood" to be elected. I personally believe every state and every division must have a vote on the Council of Representatives. I have tremendous respect for those colleagues who have served long and diligently within our governance--they bring the wisdom and vision that only experience provides. Nevertheless, I do not intend to serve again. I will definitely miss governance. However, collectively we must ensure that our association's leadership reflects the future and provides the fresh perspective required for the 21st century and beyond. Aloha.
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