zenia-frendtby Zenia Frendt
Leadership Giving Director, Women’s Leadership Council

As the 2016 legislative session kicks off here in Utah, you may wonder why, in a state full of proposed legislation regarding education, health, children, and families, there are so few women in elected office. We know that women make up roughly half of the Utah population. We know that women are known for their successful collaborative skills in corporate America. And, we know that these are issues traditionally important to women.

So the question becomes: Why aren’t we represented up on the hill?

The Center for American Progress released a report in late 2013 which ranked Utah last in the nation in terms of women being in leadership and decision making roles. When referring to women in the legislature, Utah ranks 46th in the nation. Unfortunately, as we look at statewide and national roles, the numbers are even worse.

  • 49.8% of Utah’s population is female, yet represent only 16% of state legislators
  • Nationally, 22.8% of executive office seats are held by women; in Utah it is 0%
  • Utah has never elected a female governor

We hear different explanations about why women hold fewer offices in Utah than the national average: some point to culture, some to religion, some to the values of women in Utah. However, while a case could be made to some extent for each of these, research has shown something slightly different.

Statistically speaking, in Utah, when women run for office they win at the same rate as men. In fact, in 2013 there were 343 openings for elected positions across state and local government, but only 93 women ran for those positions. Still, in the races in which women competed, they won about two-thirds of the seats.

“One of the penalties for not participating in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors” — Plato

Different studies have begun to show a problem of “leadership identity.” Women in Utah have a harder time viewing themselves as leaders in their community. When a woman doesn’t see herself as a leader or doesn’t believe in herself as a leader, she will not stand up and become one. So really, while culture or values may play a part, what we are looking at is a deeper rooted issue—the same issue at the heart of this blog series—the issue of empowering women in Utah to see their amazing potential to lead.

WLC Advocacy Tour
Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck giving WLC members a tour of the Capitol

We know how important it is for us to build up girls and young women into tomorrow’s leaders. We need it for our community as a whole, for our families, our corporations, and our government. Besides the fact that women who do run for office win at the same rate as their male counterparts, Jackie Biskupski, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, has also repeatedly pointed out that winning an elected office empowers women to shape policies that impact children and families.

“Some leaders are born women” –Geraldine Ferraro

So how are we changing the current reality for women in politics in Utah? We all know that we can do it–after all, Utah women were the first females in America to vote in a national election, and the first woman in the nation to become a state senator was a Utah woman. There are groups, such as Real Women Run, doing fantastic work to remove the barriers facing women who wish to go into public service, and their voices are getting stronger every year. 

There is a lot of exciting work being done to address the underlying issue of empowering Utah’s girls and young women to become our community’s future leaders. From extensive work in education, to mentoring programs which utilize Utah’s current women leaders, to a shift in the general narrative about women’s roles, progress is being made—and celebrated!

United Way of Salt Lake’s Women’s Leadership Council is one of the groups investing in solutions for our young women, and working tirelessly to see their efforts through. We hope you will join us at Power of Your Purse on February 25 and help us celebrate 10 years of empowering women in our community!

Find out more about Power of Your Purse 2016, HERE >>