For the first time in the state, a Utah Women & Leadership Project study is tracking the number of women and breakdown of women in state government roles — the third-largest employer in Utah, according to UWLP Founding Director Susan Madsen.
“A lot of people think it’s politics, but it really is all the women and men who work in state government, which are a lot of desk jobs, and you’ve got the transportation system, all of those organizations have people who work,” she said. “So bottom line, why it’s so important is it affects a lot of women and men, affects a lot of families here in Utah.”
The research at Utah State University, led by April Townsend, found while women make up half the population of working Utahns, only 39.3% of supervisory, managerial and leadership positions in state government are held by women. Madsen said while this is below the national average, it’s still representation.
“That’s good news, that we are more represented in government, and I think there’s some reasons for that,” she said. “Women, especially in Utah, tend to move towards nonprofit, toward things with more stability in some ways and more 8-to-5 kind of jobs, and many or most of the government positions are like that.”
Of the nearly 40% of leadership positions, only 28.8% were senior-level positions, while 41.2% were “front-line” employees, such as “supervisors, managers, administrators and coordinators.”
The research also fell in line with typical gender-roles, as women were more often found in leadership positions in education, health, human services and workforce services positions (roughly 61% in each). Women were less represented in leadership roles in stereotypically “masculine” fields, such as National Guard or Veteran Affairs, transportation, agriculture and technology (from about 10-20%, respectively).
But Madsen said strict gender roles are getting less and less common in the state.
“We have a state with a real high value for families. And I think in past decades, the structure has looked more like men do paid work, women stay at home,” she said. “I think we’ve had progress, specifically in the last 5 to 10 years. We’re seeing some progress; there’s still lots of work to be done.”
Madsen said in addition to loosening judgements on women’s choices as far as working and family balance, she hopes the state continues to advance in more equitable representation.
“The research is clear that when you have men and women working together that you really do represent the community better,” Madsen said. “But you also get many advantages by having men and women work together.”
Madsen said the benefits of more equal representation range from financial, with some research showing businesses made better investing decisions when more women were included in the discussion, to planning snow plow routes in the winter to ensure roads to schools get as much attention as typical commuter routes.
Racial diversity is an area the state’s leadership roles are also lacking in, according to the research, and an area the study hopes the state will address in the future.
“My hope is that people will learn more about gender issues, but they’ll also be more intentional to think about making sure that women move into those leadership roles, because it does make a difference,” Madsen said.
Other recommendations for the state include prioritizing diversity throughout organizations, recruiting and advancing women — including “non-traditional” individuals, such as single parents — and training to address biases and avoid stereotyping employees.
Madsen said more research is being conducted to determine representation at the county- and municipality-level throughout the state.