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Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
Ann Marie Thompson, program director at the Salt Lake Chamber Women’s Business Center, speaks during a Women in the Economy Commission meeting at the Utah State Capitol on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.
(As a commission), we are really trying to figure out what the problems are, how we’re measuring them, and what kind of partners we might need to better understand the needs of our women. —Ann Marie Thompson

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly formed female-only panel is taking aim at issues facing women in Utah’s economic landscape.

The Women in the Economy Commission conducted its second meeting Monday to discuss potential goals for the panel and how it might impact the state’s future economic success.

The 11-member commission was created during the 2014 Legislature by House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake. Seeling and House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, serve as co-chairwomen.

Seelig said the commission's purpose is to increase public and government understanding of the current and future impacts and needs of the state's women in the economy.

The commission will also work to determine how those needs may be most effectively and efficiently met, along with identifying and recommending implementation of specific policies, procedures and programs to respond to the rights, needs and impacts of women in the economy.

The panel can also facilitate coordination of the functions of public and private entities concerned with women in the economy.

“We create our institutions, including companies and governments, and then they help create us,” Seelig explained. “Our products are outcomes of who we are as human beings. And part of that contains our hopes, our dreams and our prejudices.”

She noted that since economic systems are “not neutral,” they should be examined to determine how “everybody and participate and contribute.”

Until then, she said, “we’re not going to be able to compete (nationally) or globally.”

Seelig said current economic systems do not take advantage of the full potential and capability of all of the available population, namely women.

“We have an entire human infrastructure and skill set, and we’re not utilizing about half of it,” she said.

While numerous media sources have praised Utah as one of the best economies in the nation, Seelig said that characterization might not be completely accurate.

“It may be one of the best for certain people,” she explained. “If you look at issues related to poverty and wage earnings, we still have a lot to learn.”

For Utah's entire economy to flourish, the state needs to ”benefit from all the skill sets of all the human infrastructure that we have," Seelig said. "And right now, we’re really not.”

Among the other issues of interest of the panel are helping women make advances in the state’s burgeoning business economy, explained Ann Marie Thompson, program director of the Salt Lake Chamber Women's Business Center.

“It is definitely one of our goals to be able to advance women in their own spheres, and one of them is as business owners,” Thompson said.

Education will be a key to helping women make greater gains and creating opportunities for growth and prosperity moving forward, she said.

“(As a commission), we are really trying to figure out what the problems are, how we’re measuring them, and what kind of partners we might need to better understand the needs of our women,” Thompson explained.

Learning best practices and solutions to the pervasive problems that exist are also important objectives of the panel, she added.

Thompson said addressing the issues of access to capital for women entrepreneurs and the wage gap for women in the workplace are also key concerns.

“Women are not aware that their (male) contemporaries are paying themselves a little bit more,” she said.

Women in the Economy Commission members:

House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, co-chairwoman

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, co-chairwoman

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake

Carrie Mayne, Utah Department of Workforce Services

Ann Marie Thompson, Salt Lake Chamber

Trina Eyring, Zions Bank

Jennifer Robinson, University of Utah's Center for Public Policy

Anne Burkholder, YWCA

Judy Barnett, AFL-CIO

Heather Barnum, HDR Engineering

Email: [email protected], Twitter: JasenLee1