homepage logo

Madsen: Research shows Utah still worst state for women’s equality

By Genelle Pugmire - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Dec 3, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, addresses a gathering of the Weber County Republican Women on Sept. 13, 2021, at The Ice Sheet in Ogden.

It’s past time to bring more women into leadership and public roles in Utah County and Utah, according to Susan Madsen.

During Tuesday’s Provo Municipal Council work session, Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Leadership project, spoke to the council on that very issue.

Madsen’s presentation was focused on how elected officials and community leaders can strengthen the impact of girls and women in Provo.

As part of the presentation, Madsen said they need to figure out how to bring more women into leadership or at least to the table and community discussion by appointing them to boards, commissions and committees.

Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, who has worked with Madsen since her first mayoral campaign, is hoping to do just that.

The Madsen’s council presentation comes on the heels of a paper she just released on Utah — which is ranked the worst state for women’s equality for the fourth year in a row.

The paper mostly focuses on information from WalletHub and its report on Utah’s standing.

“For the fourth year in a row, WalletHub has named Utah as the worst state in the nation for women’s equality in their report ‘2021’s Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality,’ released Aug. 23, 2021,” Madsen said. “To ascertain where women receive the most equal treatment, WalletHub’s analysis compared the 50 states across 17 key indicators of women’s equality. The indicators ranged from the gap between the number of female and male executives, to the disparity in unemployment rates for women and men, to gender differences in education and health.”

Madsen notes that WalletHub is not the only organization that puts Utah solidly at rock bottom.

As far back as 2013, surveys and reports were giving Utah poor grades on treatment of women.

“In 2013, the Center for American Progress report ‘The State of Women in America’ ranked Utah 49th of 50 states with an ‘F’ grade; this analysis considered 36 factors related to women’s economic security, leadership and health,” Madsen noted.

Economists from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and National University of Singapore also conducted an in-depth study based on a nationwide questionnaire measuring sexist attitudes — beliefs that either isolate or devalue women.

“The resulting 2019 publication ranked Utah as the second-most sexist state, and researchers found that Utah women’s internalized sexism appeared to play a unique role,” Madsen said.

Focusing on the WalletHub rankings, Madsen said three questions are apparent.

  1. What are the specific metrics that WalletHub uses for their state-by-state rankings?
  2. What do these metrics tell us about Utah women?
  3. What can Utah decision-makers and residents do to improve women’s equality in Utah?

Madsen takes a deeper dive to answers these questions. Zions Bank commissioned the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) to conduct the project. This report is also aligned with the overall UWLP mission of strengthening the impact of Utah girls and women.

Among all of the factors at play is the predominance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“More than 60% of Utah’s population are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and this religion has a profound influence on the actions, attitudes, and beliefs of its members,” Madsen said in the paper. “The Latter-day Saint Church emphasizes family formation and, while recognizing equality between partners in marriage, it also emphasizes that genders have different roles — men and fathers to provide and protect, and women and mothers to nurture and teach their children,”

This division of effort and focus continues to influence the labor force decisions of many Utah residents, and most likely impacts how Utah scores on several of the metrics measured in the WalletHub survey (e.g., gender wage gap, corporate leadership representation, and hours worked outside the home), according to Madsen.

“It is also important to recognize that WalletHub’s ranking and weighting system may not include other potential equality metrics that could shed a more positive light on Utah women’s contributions in various domains, including the home and community,” Madsen added.

Madsen also emphasized that WalletHub identifying Utah as the worst state for women regarding women’s equality does not mean it is, generally, the worst state for women.

WalletHub has two annual state-ranking reports that focus on women. The report analyzed in Madsen’s paper is focused on women’s equality, where Utah ranked 50th of 50 states. The other report, “Best & Worst States for Women,” ranks Utah much better — 28th.

The paper notes the following categories and how Utah women faired.

Utah ranked 44th overall in the “Workplace Environment” section of WalletHub’s report, while Idaho ranked 41st. Utah ranked 45th in income disparity.

Utah ranked 46th in the share of executive responsibilities. To combat this, Madsen’s paper recommends promoting more women executives.

“We recommend working toward increasing the number of women in executive positions by at least 780 Utah women, which would significantly raise the ratings.”

Madsen’s paper also delves into women in education and health and political empowerment.

In the end, Madsen says the questions become: “Can Utah create a unique path forward that will improve gender equity and equality, while also respecting the circumstances and choices of women and families? And, if so, what might that distinctive path forward look like?”

“As Utah decision makers and residents join to find ways to strengthen the impact of girls and women more effectively, more Utah women and families will feel connected to our state’s well-known mantra — ‘This Is the Place,'” she said.

The entire paper can be found on the Utah State University website.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)