According to Bloomberg, Utah currently ranks 43rd for gender equality in leadership, but the changing attitudes of Utah women may suggest the Beehive State may be able to look forward to a smaller gender gap in the future.
The ranking was based on metrics including the percentage of female business owners; percentage of total seats held by women in the state’s House and Senate; percentage of women over 25 with a master’s, doctorate or professional degree; percentage of women who worked full-time earning $100,000 or more; and the percentage of women in corporate governance.
The National Partnership for Women and Families, an organization dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, said in their 2017 report the median annual salary for a full-time working woman was $40,742 compared to $51, 212 for a man.
The wage gap between men and women in Utah per dollar is 29 cents.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, wrote a book called “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” In the book, she said mentorship and ambition play critical roles in a woman’s potential for workplace leadership — factors also noticed by Carolee Corbett, the department administrator for marketing and global supply chain in BYU’s Marriott School of Management, and Kris Tina Carlston, the director for BYU’s Pre Professional Advisement Center.
Reflecting on her time as a pre-dental student, Corbett said young women were expected to get married and be taken care of.
“Thirty years ago there was no discussion, you got your husband through school, and that was the mentality — at least here in Utah,” Corbett said.
Carlston, who holds both a law degree and an MBA, said she did not grow up seeing working women and would like to see more women in high profile occupations. She said she wants women to recognize the importance of what they do without discounting childcare, which Carlston said is often an under-appreciated skill.
Motivation plays another key role in understanding the leadership gap in addition to the lack of role models, she said.
“If I have 10 male friends and 10 female friends in law school, I would say nine of those men are dedicated to finding the highest paying job with the most responsibility,” Carlston said. “Of my 10 female friends, maybe three or four are dedicated to that, and the rest are looking for different ways to utilize their law degree.”
Nevertheless, both Corbett and Carlston said they have noticed a change in the attitude of Utah women in recent years.
Carlston said she noticed the shift particularly after the LDS mission age changed for women. She said she has started to see women return more goal-oriented and cognizant that getting an education and getting married is not an either-or thing.
Carlston said she also sees more men recognizing their definition of success isn’t the world’s definition of money and responsibility, but they are seeking to have a family and to both provide for them and spend time with them.
“I am so happy to see that, but it’s different in the sense that men are looking for flexibility, and women have to fight for it,” Carlston said.
Morgan Lewis, an English major with plans to pursue her PhD and become a professor, said she wants to show future female students they can enter male-dominated fields, such as higher education, and succeed.
She said education is empowering and gives people the tools to understand the world and the option to make a good living.
“It’s important that women have the same opportunities as those that have been given to men, both historically and currently,” Lewis said. “For women, education gives them the qualifications to enter leadership positions and begin to close the gap that still exists between men and women in the workplace.
Corbett and Carlston said changing the dialogue of the issue is instrumental in closing the leadership gap.
Carlston said she remembered being taught to get as much education as she could in case her husband died or she had to go through a divorce. She said women aren’t taught to get their education to be successful or fulfilled, but rather because something terrible might happen.
“Education is important because it opens doors,” Corbett said. “That is the conversation that needs to be had with young women.”