With National Women’s Equality Day barely a month behind us, it seems fitting that it coincided with WalletHub releasing its report on 2019’s Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality. As the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project at UVU’s Woodbury School of Business, I follow these rankings to see how they align with the vast research we have published on many of these issues. And given what I know, I was not expecting Utah to place high in the rankings, but it was still disheartening to see us rank dead last.

To determine this ranking, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 17 key indicators of gender equality, assigning each indicator a numeric value out of 100 possible. They total all 17 areas and this provides the overall ranking, with Utah landing 50 out of 50, with a total score of 25.10, nearly 15 points behind Idaho who ranked 49th (Maine ranked first with 76.75). That gap is the widest margin between any other adjacent states. They mentioned all the indicators, but I want to focus on three areas.

Largest Income Gap: Utah ranked 49, with women who work full time earning 70 cents on the dollar compared to men. Factors that impact this may include having larger families, thus taking more time off, and pursuing lower paying careers. Some people call this the “motherhood penalty” because women tend to make sacrifices that they feel benefit the family over their work or school. But these factors alone can’t justify the wage gap, because men with a high school diploma earn more than women with an associate’s degree, men with a bachelor’s earn more than women with a graduate degree, and so forth. There is a problem.

Largest Executive Positions Gap: Utah ranked 46. A report we released in May looked at Utah companies from various industries and found that women held only 6.4 percent of top leadership roles in 2018, compared to 11.6 percent in 2014. I believe this decrease correlates to the increase of tech companies to Silicon Slopes. Tech companies tend to have male leadership and boards in general. It’s vital that these companies and the state work together on initiatives to get women into that tech pipeline.

Largest Educational Attainment Gap: Utah ranked 50. This one is tricky, because they are looking at advanced degrees, and yet I believe this one may hold the key to the other two areas examined. New research shows that Utah women are more likely then men to hold just a two-year degree, as likely to have a bachelors degree, but men are significantly more likely to attain a graduate degree, which is closely linked to income. A Georgetown study posits that graduate degree holders make an average of $17,000 more per year. So, the lack of women with graduate degrees directly impacts the income gap and the executive positions gap.

When studies like this come out we need to resist the urge to either get defensive or become hypercritical. Instead, we need to seek understanding, find solutions, and promote change. I believe that as we elevate the status of women and girls, we elevate the status of all Utahns.

Dr. Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership & Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and the Founding Director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

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