10 specific ways Utah can improve its ranking as the worst state for women’s equality

Increasing female political representation would make a big difference, researchers say.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

If Utahns don’t want their state to be named the worst for women’s equality for a fifth year in a row, there are some clear steps they can take, according to new report released Thursday.

Researchers outlined their 10 recommendations in the study, which was commissioned by Zions Bank and compiled by the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah State University.

The findings in their report, titled “Women’s equality in Utah: Why Utah is ranked as the worst state, and what can be done,” are based on the 17 metrics used in WalletHub’s “2021′s Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality” list. It compared the 50 states based on workplace environment, education and health, and political empowerment.

While the report focuses on WalletHub, the personal finance website “is not alone in ranking Utah at the bottom of lists that analyze how women fare in the nation,” the authors wrote.

Two years ago, Utah was ranked the second-most sexist state, and researchers found that Utah women’s internalized sexism appeared to play a unique role. In 2013, the Center for American Progress ranked Utah 49th of the 50 states, with an “F” grade, in its “The State of Women in America” report.

Earlier this year, The Salt Lake Tribune published a series examining the status of Utah women, including fact checks on issues that typically drive the state’s ranking and reporting on what female leaders in the state and Tribune readers said would improve the lives of women here.

Moving Utah up in WalletHub’s annual rankings “is merely a proxy for addressing critical disparities and inequities in Utah,” the new report states. And one area in particular where the Beehive State could see an immediate change to its standing is by increasing its female political representation, according to researchers.

These are the 10 changes that researchers say Utah should make, in no specific order.

Elect a woman to one of Utah’s two U.S. Senate seats

Utah has never elected a female U.S. senator. But two Republican women — former state Rep. Becky Edwards and Ally Isom, former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Gary Herbert and director of identity and messaging for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — have jumped into the 2022 race to challenge Sen. Mike Lee.

Send two Utah women to the U.S. House of Representatives

Four Utah women have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives: Reva Z. Beck Bosone (1949 to 1953), Karen Shepherd (1993 to 1995), Enid Greene Waldholtz (now Enid Mickelsen) (1995 to 1997), and Mia Love (2015 to 2019).

Elect another woman to a statewide executive office

One woman, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, currently serves in one of Utah’s five statewide executive offices. Before her, only two women have served in these positions, according to the Utah Women and Leadership Project: Jan Graham, as attorney general, and Olene Walker, as lieutenant governor and then governor.

Add 780 women to executive positions within the state

Utah men are almost three times more likely than women in the Beehive State to hold an executive role, such as CEO, CFO, COO, vice president and director, according to the report.

[Take the quiz: See if you can tell whether this quote is about Utah women in 1964 or 2019.]

Elect seven more women to the state Legislature

Twenty-six women (five senators and 21 representatives) currently serve in the Utah Legislature, with the recent special election of Judy Weeks-Rohner, who replaced resigning Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, in House District 33.

“Adding at least four women senators and three women representatives will provide enough women for what the literature calls a ‘tipping point’ — where a critical mass is represented and seen as more of an influence in the governing body,” the report states.

Add 1,000 women-owned businesses in Utah

Men owned 60.3% of businesses in Utah, while women owned 15.6%, according to researchers’ analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey from 2017.

Narrow the gender pay gap

The Beehive State has had one of the largest gender wage gaps in the country for more than three decades. In 2019, Utah women earned 70.2% of what men made in the state, according to a report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research earlier this year. Nationally, U.S. women earned 81.1%. These figures are based on median annual earnings for year-round, full-time workers.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Increase the percentage of Utah women completing graduate degree programs

In Utah, 9.2% of women and 13.5% of men earn either a master’s or doctorate degree. This graduate degree gap (4.3%) “is much wider than that of any other state,” according to the report.

Reduce the disparity of Utah women who feel they cannot afford to go to a doctor by 50%

“In Utah, 16.2% of women and 12.5% of men indicated that at some time in 2019 they did not go to a needed doctor visit because of cost,” the report states.

Shrink the disparity in math scores by one point

“WalletHub keeps the source and calculation of math scores confidential, so it was challenging to reverse engineer their metric,” according to the report. Using 2019 data from the Nation’s Report Card, researchers determined eighth grade girls in Utah score two points lower on the math assessment exam than boys.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.