Michelle Quist Mumford: Having women in leadership roles matters

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Tribune staff. Michelle Quist.

Provo has never had a female mayor. Ever. It’s not the only city in Utah that hasn’t had a female mayor, but it is the largest. Women account for 50 percent of Utah’s population. Women do not account for 50 percent of Utah’s leaders.

Earlier this week the Women Lawyers of Utah held an annual event called “Banter with the Bench” where women lawyers participated in small group discussions with female judges. Women are horribly underrepresented on Utah’s bench. On Tuesday, with Utah’s few female judges, women lawyers joined to support and promote each other in their efforts to advance.

There is one female justice on the Utah Supreme Court, Justice Christine M. Durham, who is retiring soon. The nominating commission nominated four women and three men to fill her seat. If Gov. Gary Herbert appoints a man, the court will have five men and no women.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Justice Christine Durham, makes a comment during oral arguments in the Utah Supreme Court, Friday, September 16, 2016.

Utah’s Court of Appeals is a shining star of female representation. With the recent appointment of Judge Diana Hagen, the court is comprised of four women and three men. It is the first time in history that a Utah bench has more women than men.

There are 11 women who serve as state district court judges, out of 68 judges – 16 percent. In six of the eight districts there are no women district court judges at all. None.

Utah’s federal bench isn’t much better. There is one woman out of four active judges. A recent presidential appointment will make five judges, and still only one woman. There are six senior judges, and only one of them is a woman. Out of five magistrate judges, two are women. There is only one woman on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit from Utah.

You get the idea.

Events like Banter with the Bench are critical because they provide opportunities for guidance and mentorship. These events facilitate real conversations about how women can position themselves to be nominated and appointed. How should they answer certain questions, who should they ask for recommendations, how often should they apply and what should they get experience with before applying? Nobody is telling them that men with less experience and lesser credentials apply all the time.

Organizations like Real Women Run, Utah Women and Leadership Project and the Women’s Leadership Institute are doing similarly important work to encourage Utah women in politics and business.

Placing women in more leadership roles matters. Women bring different skills and abilities to the workplace and are better able to manage collaborative environments. Girls and boys need to see women making decisions that matter.

Take, for example, Utah politics. A frequent conversation among politicos is who might run for the senate seat Sen. Orrin Hatch currently holds. I have yet to hear one woman’s name suggested by a man. Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson is running for the seat from the Democratic Party. What about the Republicans? Hatch has suggested Mitt Romney. Other suggestions include Rep. Chris Stewart and Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes. The latest name thrown out is Boyd Matheson, President of the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute.

Remember when Romney was ridiculed for having binders full of women? Isn’t it far better to have a resource of women ready for promotion rather than falling prey to implicit biases and choosing men every time?

My binder full of women would include Utah Sen. Deidre Henderson, who sponsored governmental transparency legislation, and U.S. Rep. Mia Love, a savvy campaigner working on immigration protection for Dreamers. It would include Ally Isom, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Herbert, as well as Rep. Becky Edwards, Melanie Bowen, Holly Richardson, Natalie Gochnour, Heather Groom and Deneece Huftalin – all capable, smart and hard-working women.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, asks a question regarding a new bill pitched by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, that would cover the cost of birth control for women making less than $12,000 a year. The Women in the Economy committee discussed the proposal during a Tuesday meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2017.

We need women in the boardroom, in the C-suite, on the bench, and in the capitol. We need to stop talking about it and start doing it. The ironic thing about this need is that women aren’t going to get there on their own – we need men to start actively campaigning for women. We need men to start promoting women. We need men to start recruiting women.

Men, it’s time to compile your binders, and use them.

Michelle Quist Mumford is an editorial writer for The Salt Lake Tribune who doesn't really have a binder full of women, but hopes some day to need a binder full of men.