Susan R. Madsen: Utah is still the worst state for women’s equality. But has anything changed?

A look at the numbers used to rank Utah as the worst state for women to work.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Derek Miller, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Pat Jones, CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute, release a proposal on how to close the gender wage gap in Utah during a news conference at the Salt Lake Chamber on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.

When it comes to rankings with women and Utah, I brace myself for the worst. For five years running, we have ranked as the worst state when it comes to women’s equality.

As readers may remember, I published an extensive report commissioned by Zions Bank in late 2021 on “Women’s Equality in Utah: Why Utah Is Ranked as the Worst State, and What Can Be Done.” Now, WalletHub just released their 2022 findings and unfortunately, we are ranked as the 50th of 50 states yet again, but has anything changed?

It is important to note that the data sources WalletHub uses are typically a couple of years behind, so these results are not surprising to me. However, I do expect that by next year, we should be gaining more points (I hope).

Basically, WalletHub groups its findings into three main categories — workplace environment, education and health, and political empowerment — with 17 key indicators that are each weighted differently. With a total of 100 points, Utah had 29.85 points in 2021 and now has 31.22 points in 2022. Hence, Utah has made slight — but only very slight — progress.

Yet, the gap between Utah and the next worst state — now Georgia (by 12.77 points) — has dramatically widened. In 2021, we were 7.52 points behind Idaho, but Idaho had 6.81 points added to their overall score this year.

I was able to get more in-depth data from WalletHub than was published in their recent report. Let me share what I found.

• Workplace Environment

Utah currently ranks 48th for the Workplace Environment category (we were 44th in 2021), which is worth 40 of the 100 points. I have not included the actual points for each, but instead their rankings (1=Best State; 50=Worst State) for both 2021 and 2022.

1. Income Disparity: 2021=45, 2022=50

2. Higher-Income Disparity: 2021=48, 2022=49

3. Disparity in Share of Executive Positions: 2021=46, 2022=46

4. Disparity in Share of Minimum-Wage Workers: 2022=1, 2021=1

5. Unemployment-Rate Disparity: 2021=26, 2022=1

6. Entrepreneurship-Rate Disparity: 2021=39, 2022=43

7. Disparity in Average Number of Work Hours: 2021=50, 2022=50

8. Job Security Disparity: 2021=1, 2022=29

9. Economic Security Disparity: 2021=3, 2022=3

10. Disparity in Poverty Rate: 2021=3, 2022=6

We have lower state rankings on income disparity (wage gap), higher-income disparity, entrepreneurship-rate disparity, job security disparity and disparity in poverty rate. Remember that our rankings go down when other states make progress. We remained the same in some of the indicators and did shift upward in unemployment-rate disparity.

To me, income disparity, or the gender pay gap, is the most troublesome as it impacts so many other workplace elements, and most Utahns still don’t consider it is a problem.

Education and Health

Utah ranks 50th in “Education and Health” (40 points), which was where we were ranked last year. This category is the sum of the following three key indicators.

1. Disparity in Advanced Educational Attainment: 2021=50, 2022=50

2. Disparity in Math Test Scores: 2021=43, 2022=43

3. Disparity in Doctor-Visit Affordability: 2021=41, 2022=33

I am encouraged by the dramatic increase in rankings of the disparity in doctor-visit affordability. The CDC metric measures the share of adults who felt they could not afford a doctor’s visit dues to costs. The decrease means that the concern levels of men and women are a little closer together, although women are still significantly more concerned about affordability than are men so there is still more work to do.

Political Empowerment

And finally, Utah ranks 42nd on the “Political Empowerment” category (20 points) — progress from being ranked 49th in 2021:

1. Disparity in Share of Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate: 2021=21; 2022=21 (all states with no women

are ranked at 21)

2. Disparity in Share of Lawmakers in U.S. House of Representatives: 2021=37; 2022=37 (all states

with no women are ranked at 37)

3. Disparity in Share of Lawmakers in State Legislature: 2021=40; 2022=37

4. Disparity in Share of State-Elected Executives: 2021=39; 2022=30

Overall, this is just a quick snapshot of the findings from the new WalletHub report, which is a piece of the puzzle in helping us better understand the status of women in Utah. The 2021 results, along with the Utah Women and Leadership Project recommendations, are now captured in an interactive dashboard, which should be updated with the 2022 results in a couple of months. Understanding where we are is the key to targeted, strategic improvements. The research is clear that improving women’s equality helps families, workplaces and society at large. We must do better!

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