One of the most popular and persistent - perceptions about Utah is that women don't have the career opportunities here they have in most states.

Many successful Utah women say that perception - like most of Utah's other debits - is exaggerated. Problems exist, but they don't have to stand in the way of a determined woman.However, a recent survey of 251 newcomers to the state found that 56 percent considered job opportunities for women in Utah to be poor. Eighteen percent felt they were average, 12 percent good and only 5 percent saw them as very good. Nine percent didn't know.

The survey was conducted by Dan Jones and Associates. The state department of community and economic development is billing the survey as preliminary, but the numbers will not change, said Pat Jones, a market research analyst with Dan Jones and Associates.

Those surveyed have lived in the state for three years or less. Thirty-four percent of the group is less happy in Utah than in their previous state. That group included mostly couples where women worked full time.

"Couples where the woman works full time outside the home are less satisfied with Utah," Jones said.

But many of Utah's most dynamic women had little trouble succeeding here and they believe others can, too. Deedee Corradini, president of the Utah Symphony, came to Utah in 1971. Newly divorced, she had two children, a few hundred dollars and a master's degree in psychology - not the traditional entree to the business world.

She hopscotched her way from one opportunity to the next - acquiring expertise in public relations, business, politics and lobbying. Now she is considered one of the most powerful businesswomen in the state. She is president of Bonneville Associates Inc. - a government relations consulting firm with international interests. She is a partner in the firm's holding company, Bonneville Group. She has served on several boards - including the boards of Intermountain Health Care and Utah Power and Light.

She never felt that being a woman held her back in Utah. In fact, Corradini has irked some local women's groups by refusing to immerse herself in women's issues. She simply doesn't think being a woman is an issue in the workplace.

"We are all people. I just think of myself as a person out there working with other people and never stop to think, `Am I being treated as a woman or not.' It just doesn't occur to me."

She has had other women tell her that their options have been limited in Utah. "I would have to assume that there are people who feel that this has been the case," she said, but she has never seen it. "There are lots of opportunities here. I've been successful, and I think other women can be, too."

Jan Graham gives Utah mixed reviews. A partner in the law firm Jones, Waldo, Holbrook and McDonough, she sees the state opening up for women lawyers. More of them are making partner in their law firms, she said. Most of the prestigious firms in town have become gender blind.

Graham has been highly successful. She serves on her firm's board of directors.

But too many doors are still closed to Utah's women, she said. Women don't receive many government appointments or win elected offices, she pointed out. The Legislature is 91 percent male.

"We don't have many women run for office in this state. That's because they think they don't have a prayer."

There are no female judges in any of the district courts and only one on the Supreme Court, she said.

"That creates a perception in other states that this place is locked up and women will be excluded from meaningful leadership in the community."

Only five of the Alta Club's 600 members are women, she said. The club began accepting women a year ago under the pressure of lawsuits and adverse court rulings.

But the saddest irony is the Salt Shakers Club, Graham said. The club is the recognized goodwill ambassador for the state, greeting new businesses that come to town and hosting business executives scouting the state as a prospective business location.

There are 50 members in the group. Only three are women. "That's shameful," Graham said. "What clearer message would you want."

"We've been trying to increase our women membership," said Ken Hill, president of the Salt Shakers. "We are consciously trying to get more women involved."

Despite the problems, Graham sees progress in Utah. When she travels to law schools on the East and West coast to recruit new attorneys for her firm, she assures women that the perceptions about Utah are much worse than the realities and that a woman attorney can succeed in Utah.

Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham will attest to that. Like Graham, she sees problems, but they haven't kept her from success.

"It's not so much that women can't get ahead but that they must do so in an environment that is not supportive and is often hostile," she said.

Like Corradini, she thinks Utah's reputation is worse than the reality. "I'm not sure women have a harder time in Utah. I think they have to put up with more nonsense than women in a lot of other places do. But I'm not sure how much that disadvantages them. I don't think Utah deserves the bad reputation it has compared to other states."

Karen Shepherd, editor of Network Magazine, believes women do have to struggle more to get ahead here, but she blames much of that on a stagnant economy.

When jobs and promotions get scarce, women and minorities are the first to lose out, she said.

"If you compare Utah to states where there is no economic growth, like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, I think you would find women have the same problems in those states," she said.

"There's a whole lot of discrimination against women in the rest of the country. The way the rest of the country targets Utah as the worst place for women is totally unfair. It presumes the rest of the country is a land of opportunity for women. It's not. There's still a sizeable wage gap between men and women in this country."

The wage gap in Utah, however, is more substantial than the national average, Shepherd said.

There are problems in Utah that can't be ignored, she said. But Utah women have to share some of the blame for the difficulties. They have been more accepting of the roles men defined for them than have women in some other states.

"I think women in this state are kind of waiting for men to say, `Oh my gosh, you mean you are getting paid less than me? Well, let me make that right.' It's not going to happen," Shepherd said.

Several of those interviewed say Utah won't change until its women force the change.

Too many are hanging back, Graham said. "They feel like the battle is an uphill one and life is too short."

"Women need to shoulder up to their responsibility for their half of society," said Aileen Clyde, who has risen to prominence in volunteer work. She has been the chairman of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice since 1983, an impressive achievement when one notes she is the only layman on the commission.

Despite some resentment in the state toward affirmative action, equal opportunity and comparable-worth laws, such laws have been the only source of improvement for Utah women, Clyde said. Shepherd concurred.

"I have not felt restricted in my life, but it's because I've been willing to buck up against restrictions," Clyde said.

Many women mistakenly assume they can't succeed here, Durham said. Their attitude defeats them before they begin.

"Don't make assumptions," she said. "Don't come in with a chip on your shoulder, assuming doors will be closed."

The Governor's Commission on the Status of Women found that women who built a network of contacts shortly after moving here were much happier than those who didn't.

When the University of Utah offered a job to Noemi Mattis, Mattis was apprehensive. A Jewish woman from New York City, she didn't think she could be happy in Utah. Mattis worried that her psychology practice wouldn't flourish here the way it was doing in New York.

Contacts changed her mind.

"The U. seduced me by arranging for me to meet some extraordinary women. I have seen women in Utah who are more extraordinary, vibrant and active than anywhere else. They are also more warm and accepting than women anywhere else."

Mattis and her husband came to the state eight years ago. Her practice is very successful and she loves living here.

The women in Utah who are unhappy often find themselves socially isolated and professionally disenfranchised, she said. Some women have been so miserable they moved away, leaving their husbands behind.

When the U. recently tried to woo back an outstanding researcher, he told officials he didn't dare come. The first time he was in Utah, his wife was so miserable she moved away, eventually divorcing him.

He was afraid Utah would ruin his second marriage, Mattis said.

But this time, the U. arranged for his wife to meet several bright women in Utah.

The woman, who is a physician, also found a job at the U. Health Sciences Center. "She is very, very happy," Mattis reported.

"If what you have to offer is really good, you may be more successful in Utah than elsewhere," she said.

- Marianne Funk