Susan R. Madsen: There can be an inclusive face to conservatism

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A detail from the new "Utah Women 2020" Mural, featuring 268 Utah women from the past and present, on the Dinwoodey building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.

A few weeks ago, WalletHub released its “2020′s Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality,” and Utah ranked worst in the nation — yet again.

As one of the primary researchers in Utah on a variety of issues related to women’s challenges and opportunities, it was not a big surprise. However, after working persistently for over 12 years on these issues, combined with the decades of work by so many other Utah women (and some men), I must say this is getting old.

Although I believe this collective work has and is making a difference, there is still so much that needs to be done to make Utah a more inclusive place for everyone.

To be honest, I have been grappling for years with one major elephant in the room, and that is with what the research tells us about various types of cultures. Regarding gender, research continues to find that conservative and religious cultures are less friendly and supportive of women and family-friendly policies/initiatives than other types of societies.

One study currently in review found that more religious states and countries have significantly wider gender pay gaps and attributed this difference to the fact that more religious societies have fewer women in elected public office and also have higher levels of sexual objectification (as measured by pornography rates).

Another recent study found that conservative CEOs had fewer egalitarian values (like believing that all people deserve equal rights and opportunities) compared to their liberal counterparts, and their companies had higher numbers of corporate-discrimination lawsuits filed against them.

Yet, in my traditional and conservative upbringing I was taught that we should treat all individuals with kindness, charity and love. That we should serve and respect all people. That we should become less judgmental and try to love all people no matter their beliefs and values, and that we should be just and fair in our dealings with others.

To me, these teachings ought to be deeply connected to inclusion initiatives, support for family-friendly policies and practices, and deep values related to respecting, valuing, and supporting women and people of color. Although history has linked these beliefs and values to liberalism, to me, they are principles that can and should be connected to conservatism. As we know, Utah was the first state that allowed women to vote many years ago, so we have a legacy that we can do things differently and better for women.

I admit, these equality rankings do not measure many great things about Utah women (such as high levels of volunteerism, strong commitment to families and healthy lifestyles), but we still need to do much more. So, can there be an inclusive face to conservatism?

I believe the answer is “yes.” We can start by discarding the widely held “zero-sum mentality” in our state — that if we lift women, we will take away from men. We can lift girls and women, while also lifting boys, men, families and society (including people of all races, backgrounds, and life experiences).

Right now, Utah has a remarkable opportunity to do better and be better. Principles of equality, fairness, justice, and inclusion should not belong to any party or ideology — these values can and must be upheld by all of us. The path forward will not be easy, but it is a path we must all walk together so that we can continue to lift Utah residents, families, businesses, communities, and the state as a whole.

Susan R. Madsen

Susan R. Madsen, Ed.D., is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.