SALT LAKE CITY — Questar employs 391 women at its typically male-dominated, blue-collar, labor-intensive business. And it is working on hiring more.
Recently, women at the company also asked for a mentoring program to help them learn, excel and advance.
"It's not an us-versus-them attitude," said Jill Carter, director of human resources at the natural gas utility that serves all of Utah and parts of Idaho and Wyoming. "We want to promote the best women and men."
The company is embracing a corporate challenge issued to Utah businesses and agencies earlier this year: to hire, promote, recognize and pay more women.
"We always want to hire the most qualified applicant, but we want to foster a more diversified pool of qualified applicants," Carter said. "We want to cast a wider net to include more women and more people from diverse backgrounds."
The Women's Leadership Institute, which kicked off in January, issued the ElevateHER challenge in May, and Pat Jones, the group's CEO, said, "slowly but surely," things are changing.
"Given our numbers of women in senior level positions and in politics, this is one of the dark places for Utah," she said. "It's a place where we really need to improve."
Men as allies
Jones said the institute is perfectly poised to bring about change because it is led by business leaders and has support from corporate Utah. It also claims heavy involvement from men, "as allies," she said, to "work together and advocate for each other."
"The tone is different," Jones said, adding that the group isn't just focused on promoting women in business settings, but also at home. "Not all women are aspiring to work outside of the home, but they are necessary and important at home, as well."
The Women's Leadership Institute, housed at the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, created seven calls to action to help organizations manage diversity internally, not in a prescriptive or forceful way, Jones said.
"All of them, collectively, have proven to move the needle," she said.
Responding to the calls, companies are putting women on boards, elevating women to senior level positions where they are earned, increasing the retention rates of women within their organizations, looking at their own gender pay gaps and creating mentorship programs for women within their organizations. Companies are also encouraged to recruit, encourage and support women running for public office.
Jones said that while many policymaking committees have the voice of but one or two women, the state has 25 women in the pipeline to becoming elected officials.
"Women bring a different voice to the discussion because of their experiences," Jones, a former Utah senator, said. In an opinion piece for the Deseret News, Jones recently wrote that as women make up half of the population of Utah and are integral members of families and society, women should have a say in public policy.
"The problem is that women often don't see how politics affects their daily lives," she wrote, followed by about a dozen ways women could benefit from being involved, including career enhancement, networking opportunities and self-discovery.
Jones' institute isn't the only group pushing for change in the state. At least a dozen other initiatives exist to advance equity for women and girls in Utah.
Good for business
Research from Bloomberg has shown that having women in high-ranking positions helps businesses build better reputations, increases innovation and collaboration, as well as boosting the bottom line and overall employee retention.
"Women like to go where there are other women," Jones said. "If they see all men, it's not a place where they feel comfortable."
The corporate challenge aims to also help women rise to the occasion should openings and opportunities come about. The leadership institute offers resources and tools to prepare women better, as well as help men feel more comfortable around women in the workplace.
"This is about capitalizing on what women can offer, leveraging it, maximizing it," Jones said. She's passionate about creating an example for younger women to follow, adding value to the community and letting them see what they can be.
Questar's program, which is championed by the company's CEO, has been successful so far, fusing more women and diverse people into the leadership ranks, but also helping to preserve the longtime employee-friendly culture there.
Carter said fostering diversity is critical to the growth of the company, as "our growth is based on the input of all populations that we serve."
"It's not just because it is the right thing to do. It's the best thing to do," she said. "It's best for the business and from an HR perspective, it's fantastic for the work force, too."