SALT LAKE CITY —  In terms of gender, Utah is nearly evenly divided, according to the latest census figures.

In the political arena, however, far more men serve in public life. Utah ranks 43rd nationwide for the percentage of women who serve in the state legislature or assembly, according to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics.

Slightly more than 17 percent of Utah lawmakers are female, compared to the national average of 23.6 percent. Neighboring Colorado leads the nation at 40 percent, according to the center.

"There's no question, politics is still a man's world," said former state Rep. Sheryl Allen, a Republican who in 2008 ran for lieutenant governor with Peter Corroon on the Democratic ticket.

"Not enough women are running. If you just look at the recent city council races, women simply are not declaring to run in the numbers men are, not even close. We have to make it look attainable, help them understand the value of elected service and train them how to run."

That's the goal of an initiative to encourage more Utah women to run for public office, work on political campaigns, serve on public boards and commissions and participate in public policymaking.

A social networking event to kick off the initiative, "Real Women Run — Find Your Voice," will be conducted from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at the YWCA Salt Lake City, 322 E. Broadway.

"Our goal from this is to get more people involved. We want women to know that when they run, they win. Their voices need to be heard across the state of Utah, whether in elected offices or the volunteer level. And we're here to help," said Lindsay Zizumbo, the Hinckley Institute of Politics' program manager for state and local internships.

There is no charge for the event, which is intended to give women an opportunity to meet one another and hear from experienced office holders, Republican and Democrat.

Following this event, partners in the initiative — YWCA, the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, Vision 2020, a national initiative to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the women's suffrage movement, among others — will also conduct a training in women's public leadership in January. Allen and former Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini are Utah's delegates to Vision 2020.

The women's public leadership training will be held Saturday, Jan. 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Larry H. Miller of Salt Lake Community College., 9750 S. 300 West in Sandy.

The seminar will feature keynote speakers, current and past female politicians, public appointees, media experts, campaign managers and others. Topics include making the decision, research, campaign plan and structure; budget, finance and fundraising; media; message, image and presentations; staff structure; public boards and commissions; and caucuses, delegates and conventions.

"My concern has always been that there are not enough women in public office. I'm just thrilled to be working with all these different parties to come together to make a serious effort in Utah," Corradini said.

Allen said state and local government in Utah needs to be more representative. This is particularly true of young women. "They have unique challenges, unique experiences and they need a voice," Allen said.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, who has also served in the Utah Senate, said all legislative bodies benefit from diversity. 

"I always want the best person in office. I think it's very important to have different voices and people with different life experiences," she said.

Generally speaking, women need to be asked to run for political office, Arent said.

"One thing we've learned is many women don't think they're qualified when in fact they're well qualified," Arent said. "Too many people are waiting for the right time in their life."  

Zizumbo said the overarching goal of the initiative is "about having a more representative government. Fifty percent of Utah's population is female and only about 15 percent of our legislators are female. It's a goal to lessen that margin."

The YWCA is all about women's empowerment and leadership, she said. "Women need to step up, speak out and make change."

Anne Burkholder, chief executive officer of the YWCA Salt Lake City, said the nonprofit is promoting the effort, "because we don't have enough women in political leadership at any level in this country."

If you go:

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

Where: YMCA, 322 E. Broadway

Who: Women interested in running for public office, working on political campaigns, or serving on public boards and commission

To register, call (801) 537-8606 or e-mail Robin Pratt at