Female political leadership roles lacking in Utah despite past progress

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A historic number of women were elected to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, but some Utah women are still finding it difficult to find their own voices and roles in politics.

BYU communications alumn Maureen Elinzano said, “The stigma around women becoming leaders starts with a person’s mindset.”

According to Wall Street 24/7, Utah ranked the sixth lowest in percent of state legislators who were women in 2016. Only 16.3% of Utah state legislators were women at the time. Although this stastistic has increased to 24% according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Utah still ranks lower than the national average.

Despite this, there are many women across Utah who are actively serving in political leadership roles and who are determined to have an impact and raise awareness for other girls and women in Utah.

Elinzano is working in Washington D.C. as a deputy digital director for Sen. Patty Murray.  Elizano says she never could have imagined she would have ended up where she is now, living one of her wildest dreams.

Elinzano says she was raised in a very politically aware household where she was always hearing and seeing what was happening in the U.S. She never thought she would be working in politics.

Things started to change for Elinzano after the 2016 presidential election. She said as a  Democrat and Hilary Clinton supporter, she was very upset with the results.

“I was very scared about the direction of our country and for the marginalized communities that would be affected by Trump administration’s policies. I was writing for Teen Vogue at the time, so I wrote an article where I interviewed a bunch of girls about who they voted for and why. It helped with how upset I was, but I still felt like I needed to do more,” Elinzano stated.

Elinzano applied for an internship on Capitol Hill in Congress in 2017 and was was accepted as a press and legislative intern for Democrat Rep. Susan Davis. After her internship, Elizano returned to BYU where she continued to be involved with politics by serving in BYUSA and helping to found the BYU Women of Color Club.

Elinzano says she is excited for the future, especially for women.

“Women being seen in political leadership roles is no longer groundbreaking; women are being seen and recognized. I hope one day women won’t have to be questioned so much about if they are qualified enough for a leadership position in politics and government,” Elinzano said.

(Courtney Tietjen)

She says she is excited to see where her career takes her next, and she is grateful to be surrounded by so many women who are leading the way. If she could give any advice to girls and women who are chasing this dream, Elinzano said she would encouage them to “work hard, have faith and be kind, loving and respectful to everyone you meet, as well as speaking up when you feel like you have to. My favorite quote of all time is by Shirley Chisholm, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ That always has to be your mindset.”

Another woman in the Utah community working to making strides for women is UVU professor Susan Madsen.

Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics at the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University. Madsen is involved with leadership foundations outside of the country and is the author of six book as well as 200 articles and reports. She is also the founder and director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, which she actively directs today.

Madsen has worked to bring political and social change for girls and women across the state of Utah. She says she takes great pride in her work and believes it is her calling in life.

“I’m a professor, but I felt really called by God to be honest, to do the work that I am doing on raising the awareness so women can find their voices. We are trying to move the needle.” Madsen explained.

In the audio clip below, she became emotional as she spoke about the work she does. “God does not need women to keep their mouth shut,” she said.

Madsen said she loves what she does and the impact she has on women and in turn everyone else surrounded by those women.

“When you lift and empower women politically in the right ways, then you lift and empower men and families,” she said.

With women like Elinzano and Madsen leading the way for girls and women in Utah, some people may ask why aren’t more women running for political offices?

In a USA Today report, Dr. Jennifer Lawless, director of the American University’s Women & Politics Institute, said, “The issue isn’t that women don’t have the credentials or the background anymore. The issue is that that’s not sufficient to get them to run for office.”

The major challenge for the state is that few Utah women are running for office. If their name isn’t on the ballot, there is no way they are getting votes.

Businesswoman Gail Miller speaks at a Women & Leadership event held at UVU. (Utah Women & Leadership Project)

So what can be done?

In an article from the Utah Women & Leadership Project, Madsen suggested the following ideas. First, more girls and women need to be involved in their communities. Second, girls and women need to understand the importance of running for political offices. And third, girls and women can attend events around the state that encourage women to pursue political offices and become involved.

She hopes that these and other steps will build upon the strides women have already made not only in Utah but across the nation.

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