Utah women seek to bridge gender leadership gaps

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Susan Madsen speaks at a 2014 Utah Women and Leadership Project event titled “The Confidence Crisis for Girls & Women.” Madsen founded The Utah Women and Leadership Project in 2013 with a core mission of strengthening the impact of women and girls. (Utah Women and Leadership Program)

Susan Madsen believes discomfort means change.

“When you lead social change, you create urgency, and you do that by making people feel uncomfortable,” she said.

Madsen, a speaker, writer and professor of leadership and ethics at UVU, founded the Utah Women and Leadership Project in 2013 as one way to create social change. The project’s core mission is to “strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women through informing, engaging and developing their voices, confidence, influence and leadership,” according to their website. The project has published a variety of research, including a recent report highlighting Utah’s leadership gap in education.

Madsen said Utah women often don’t open their minds to all their possibilities.

Speaker, writer and UVU professor Susan Madsen founded the Utah Women and Leadership Project in 2013. The UWLP’s upcoming event on Sept. 14 is titled “Strengthening the Impact of Girls & Women: Resilience, Social Media, and Unconscious Bias” and will focus on empowering women and girls. (Utah Women and Leadership Program)

“Anytime that we can get (women) and inspire them to think differently … that would be a big (way to help women). You see yourself differently, you identify differently. Many women just don’t think of themselves as leaders,” Madsen said.

BYU family life professor Sarah Coyne said Mormon culture plays into the local leadership gap.

“In this particular area, there’s been some research to show that women, especially of the LDS Church, tend to have higher levels of perfectionism than others,” Coyne said.

Coyne, who studies how women are portrayed in the media, said other factors in the leadership gap include fear of risk-taking and lack of confidence. Minimizing the gap will take some self-reflection for women, she said.

“Figure out, ‘What are my fears? What is holding me back?’ Push yourself to do small things. It’s okay to not feel completely ready to take on the responsibility. It’s okay to submit something that’s not 100 percent perfect,” Coyne said.

When women don’t take on leadership roles, everyone misses out, she said.

“Research has shown that groups tend to work best when there’s both men and women in leadership, so it’s a real problem if you take any group … and (have) only one gender,” Coyne said.

Understanding these issues is why women should attend the upcoming Utah Women and Leadership Project event, Madsen said.

“The more that you understand the issue, the more that you have choices in your life,” Madsen said. “So… if you understand more, you are empowered more.”

The event, titled “Strengthening the Impact of Girls and Women: Resilience, Social Media, and Unconscious Bias,” will be held on Sept. 14 at UVU’s Sorensen Center from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., and will begin with keynote speaker Elaine Dalton. The free event will then feature three workshops for patrons to choose from, and although the evening is geared towards girls and women, men are also welcome (though registration is now closed).

“We want (patrons) to increase their education, their awareness (and) their information, but also to have tools that they can use as they influence themselves … (and others),” Madsen said.

Madsen said there are about 900 people signed up for the event.

“These are not small events,” she said. “We try to provide settings that educate people … but also motivate them and inspire them.”

Former Utah Women and Leadership event patron Rachel Stone said these events reach a diverse group of women. Stone, a BYU alumna who graduated earlier this year in political science, helped found the non-partisan campus club Women in Politics.

“It was pretty empowering, because seeing this auditorium full of women made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone (and) that I could reach out for help if I didn’t know how to do something,” Stone said.

Stone said Utah Women and Leadership Project events are important for BYU women because they don’t have the same breadth of resources as women from other universities. For instance, Mormon culture encourages young couples to have children, but BYU has no kind of day-care system, she said.

The UWLP has several other upcoming events, including co-sponsoring the second annual “Women Who Build” seminar, where patrons will create a business in three hours and pitch them to entrepreneurs. In addition, “She Talks Utah” will be Nov. 2 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at UVU and will feature five Utah women (author Shannon Hale, violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, KSL host Brooke Walker and two yet to be announced) sharing their personal stories and passions.