Editor’s note: This article is part of a series examining the status of Utah women. Read the editorial explaining the project and fact checks on issues that typically drive the state’s ranking as the nation’s worst place for women. Take the quiz to see if you can tell whether a statement was said about Utah women in 1964 or 2019.
If Utah is going to shed its reputation as the worst state for women’s equality, it needs to eliminate its gender wage gap, increase the number of female leaders in business and politics in the state, and support women pursuing college degrees.
That’s what readers told The Salt Lake Tribune in an online survey earlier this month, which included two open-ended questions:
“The list of what Utah could do could fill a book,” one person responded. Another wrote, “Who cares about the reputation? Let’s change the reality.”
The Tribune received more than 150 responses. Answers to the two questions often overlapped, with similar, dominant themes appearing in each. For instance, reducing the gender wage gap would improve the lives of Utah women, as well as how other states view Utah, readers wrote.
Utah’s gap has shrunk over the years, but it’s remained one of the biggest since at least 1989, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In 2019, Utah women earned 70.2% of what men earned, the Institute shows, while U.S. women earned 81.1%
This gap “is ridiculous and insulting,” one reader wrote. “I’m worth every penny what my male coworkers make if not more.”
In order to close the gap, there may need to be mandates or economic incentives for businesses to meet diversity ratios and examine employees’ pay and fix any inequalities, some respondents said. One person suggested penalties for those who don’t comply.
Readers stressed that they want to see more female representation in elected offices, particularly in the Statehouse and Congress. Currently, 25 women serve in the state Legislature, making up 24% of the 104-member body. No women represent Utah in Congress, although two Republican women — Becky Edwards and Ally Isom — have jumped in the race to try to unseat Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
The call for more women in leadership positions extended to businesses and the private sector, too. A handful of respondents said there needs to be more female leaders in religious organizations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It shouldn’t matter how many X chromosomes I have to be a church or business leader,” one person wrote.
The LDS Church’s emphasis on distinct gender roles for men and women, and the influence the religion has on politics and culture in the Beehive State, were common topics that appeared in readers’ responses.
“Honestly I think the LDS Church should be at the forefront of helping the state address women’s inequality [because] I think a lot of these issues are homegrown within the church (this coming from an active female member),” one person wrote.
There should be more support and encouragement of women pursuing higher education and completing their degrees, according to those who filled out the survey. A handful of people suggested women should delay getting married to focus on their careers, education or other goals.
Readers also called for more affordable and accessible child care and early childhood education that fits parents’ work hours.
“I am a teacher, and so many women quit because they cannot afford day care while they continue working,” one respondent said. “This contributes to the high turnover and unqualified teachers problem, and teacher shortage Utah has.”
Others said there needs to be a greater appreciation of the role women play in society as caregivers, and for the unpaid labor that they do.
“As long as a stay-at-home parent, regardless of gender, is considered worthless, Utah’s women will never be viewed for the value they truly have,” one person wrote.
Some people pushed back on the idea that Utah women’s lives need to improve. “I had a great job before I retired and made a great living. I love being a woman and especially in the state of Utah,” one person said.
As for Utah’s reputation, one person said, “Honestly, I don’t think we should care what other people think of us nationally.” Another respondent wrote, “The priorities of Utah women are not the same as many other places.”
Rather than comparing women in the Beehive State to their peers in other states, they said, “Maybe the question should be how are Utah women prioritizing their lives and what defines a fulfilling life?”
Either way, readers said that Utahns should value women’s experiences and viewpoints, no matter her background or path in life. One way to do that is to widen women’s expectations for what’s possible for them to achieve, they said.
“If a woman wants to be president, go for it. If one has a life goal of being a stay-at-home mom, go for it,” according to one reader.
Here are other changes that readers said they want to see:
Better paid family leave and greater flexibility in when and where people work.
Increased pay and respect for female-dominated occupations, such as teaching, nursing and child care.
Marriage to be viewed a partnership, with both members in a couple sharing household and caregiving responsibilities.
Women to have autonomy over their own bodies and reproductive health, such as through free birth control and cheaper feminine hygiene products.
Recognition of the way that patriarchal ideas and gender stereotypes shape society and the workplace, with women often pushed toward motherhood.
Reduce sexism and misogyny in the workplace and society. One person, who said they work in upper management, wrote, “I have had so many experiences where men don’t hear me, don’t take me seriously, ask me to perpetuate sexist ideas in my marketing, and override my decisions. As many women will attest, it’s hard to know whether any individual incident is sexism or [if] it’s just workplace politics — but it happens more often to us than to men, that’s for sure.”
Men, particularly those in power, supporting and advocating for women, recognizing the barriers they face.
Less emphasis on beauty standards and having to be perfect.
Prevention of domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, interpersonal violence and sexual harassment.
More comprehensive sex education for students.
For women to be less judgmental, and more accepting, of each other.
Focus on mental health, including maternal mental health.
Support women-owned businesses.
More role models and mentors for women and girls.
“Actually make women’s equality a priority in this state, starting with the Governor and the state Legislature,” a person wrote. “Throw the weight (and the money) of this state behind women’s issues.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.