Op-ed: Some progress for Utah women, but much work remains

First Published      Last Updated Jun 09 2016 05:33 pm

A host of state rankings in the past few years has continually put Utah as one of the worst states in the nation for women. For example, a New York Post article put Utah as one of five places in the world women should not visit. In 2014, Utah was ranked as the worst state for women on the "10 Worst States for Women" list in 24/7Wallst.com. And, Utah did not fare well in the Center for American Progress report, "The State of Women in America: A 50-State Analysis of How Women are Faring Across the Nation." Personally, I think Utah is a great state for women, but it is clear that we can make improvements.

WalletHub has now published its 2015 "Best and Worst Wallet Hub States for Women," and there is good news and bad news for Utah. First the good news: Utah is not ranked at the bottom! In fact, Utah received a ranking of 33rd overall (of 51 states), 44th in "women's economic & social well-being" and 17th in "women's health care." Utah did not show up on either the top five or the bottom five in any of their rating areas: median earnings, unemployment rate, women living in poverty, women owned businesses, high school dropout rates, women voting in the 2012 presidential election, women who are uninsured or women's life expectancy at birth. Does this mean things are good for women in Utah? Yes and no.

WalletHub also published its "2015's Best and Worst States for Women's Equality," and Utah did not fare well. Utah was ranked last overall (50 of 50) — including a 45th ranking in "workplace environment," 49th in "education," and 36th in "political empowerment." In digging deeper, Utah received the following rankings: largest pay gap (47th), largest executive positions gap (50th), largest work hours gap (47th), and the largest education attainment gap (50th). Although Utah was not listed as one of the five states with the largest political representation gap, other research has found we are most likely 44th or 45th. In terms of women's political participation generally, a national 2015 study ranked Utah at 43th in terms of women registering to vote and 46th for women who vote.

What does all this mean? The bottom line is that we are doing OK in some areas and worse in others, but we need to make strides in nearly all areas.

For those interested in looking further into these issues, the 2014 report titled "The Well-Being of Women in Utah: An Overview" (Institute for Women's Policy Research in partnership with the Utah YWCA) is helpful. The Utah Women & Leadership Project also has a series of original reports that can provide additional details on the status of women in leadership positions in politics, nonprofits, education, and business.

So, what is being done? Many statewide organizations and groups are making efforts to assist groups and women. They include the Utah Women in the Economy Commission, Girl Scouts of Utah, the Utah Women & Leadership Project, Women's Leadership Institute, Real Women Run, Utah YWCA, Utah Women in Higher Education Network, Women's Business Center and more. In addition, many local networks and groups are involved in this related work. As a whole, we are making progress, but there is still much more to be done. I urge Utahns to get involved in efforts that encourage and assist girls, young women and women in gaining confidence, finding their voices and becoming leaders.

Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Utah Valley University's Woodbury School of Business.