Natalie Gochnour: Utah needs more women in decision-making roles

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, Aug. 8 2014 12:15 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Capitol, Jan. 23, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Next week, Utahns will be summoned to the election booth to vote in municipal elections. Those who do will find far too few women on the ballot. And it’s not just at the ballot box: it’s in boardrooms and businesses. It’s even in our faith institutions. Women, for all of their native talents, are completely underrepresented in leadership positions. Our community is the lesser for it.

It isn’t always this way. When I served in Gov. Mike Leavitt’s administration the senior spots were plumb-full with smart women. Olene Walker held the number two spot and helped reform welfare, expand housing opportunities and host superb Olympic Games. Lynne Ward served as the budget director keeping watch over billions of dollars of public monies. She supported many of the fiscal practices that benefit us today. Leavitt also had female cabinet members at Workforce Services (Raylene Ireland), Tax Commission (Pam Hendrickson), Criminal and Juvenile Justice (Camille Anthony), Natural Resources (Kathleen Clarke) and Human Services (Robin Arnold-Williams). This mix of female talent blended with the male talent at other departments to comprise an incredible team. Not surprisingly, during this time Utah experienced its longest sustained economic expansion in modern history. We can all learn lessons from this success.

I share this experience in the Utah governor’s office to make a point – there are outstanding female leaders in this community. Entities and people who place women in leadership positions will be handsomely rewarded.

Why is feminine leadership important? I think it’s because women bring needed balance and perspective to the male-dominated world. Left unchecked, masculine traits like the pursuit of power or the drive to compete can lead to problems. The feminine traits of civility and stewardship bring needed balance. One need look no further than Washington, D.C., where a complete lack of respect and teamwork has crippled our government. Washington needs more balance.

Masculine traits come from a position of strength, which is a good thing. Feminine traits come from a position of goodness, which is also positive. But strength without goodness leads to abuse. Goodness without strength is ineffective. Together, well…that’s where real progress is made.

Utah Business magazine recently highlighted this issue in an outstanding article by Heather Stewart. She reported that only 8.4 percent of the top 45 public companies in Utah have board positions filled by women. She also references research by the Credit Suisse Research Institute and Thomson Reuters that suggests companies with women directors and women on their boards enjoy higher income growth and stock performance.

I’m not surprised.

If you are a woman, finish your college degree or certificate and seek additional education. The world needs you. If you are in a position of influence, recruit talented women for leadership roles. If you are a woman who has a zeal for public service, become a candidate for local, state or federal office. And if you are a man with a talented spouse, help her more in parenting so she can share her talents more broadly. You too have parenting responsibilities.

Utah has a proud legacy of extraordinary female leadership. Martha Hughes Cannon was the first female member of the U.S. Senate. Utah was the second territory to give women the right to vote and did so before any state. The Relief Society of the LDS Church is one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world. And today, Becky Lockhart serves as the first Utah Speaker of the House.

Let’s take this proud legacy and do more. We still have a long way to go.

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.

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